Hardware

Fixing Three: Solving connectivity issues with the Huawei E220 and Three Mobile broadband


Over the last few months I've tested several of the new HSDPA mobile broadband solutions on the UK market and have been pretty impressed. One of the most competitive packages is offered by Three Mobile—while their top speed and Internet coverage can't match that of Vodafone, for an average user their service was more than adequate and running the costs are much lower than any of their competitors. Unfortunately, I experienced some frustrating connectivity issues while using Three's Mobile Broadband with my Windows notebook. I would find the connection appeared to be established but would not route any data to or from the Internet. The only thing that seemed to enable me to reconnect was a reboot which very quickly became tiresome. Starting with a simple process of elimination, I ruled out the computer, antivirus, and any firewalls. Finally, after trying everything else, I could be 100% sure that I had narrowed the problem down to either the Windows drivers and/or connection manager application. Connecting with my Mac proved there was definitely nothing wrong with the modem or the mobile network.

After spending a few weeks scouring Google, searching through forums, and reading page upon page of newsgroup archives, it became clear that I wasn't the only person suffering from this type of problem, but there didn't seem to be a solution. Three's support site had no mention of an issue and no driver updates. One forum user revealed that after a lot of installing/uninstalling and no fix, he'd been offered a refund. I was still convinced that this shouldn't be too difficult to resolve; either the driver or connection manager were to blame and I wondered whether I would be able to find an updated driver or generic connection manager on the Web.

Following a thread of comments on the mobileconnected blog, I found one post by a Vista user who had unwittingly flashed his ‘Three' E220 modem with a Vodafone firmware update in an attempt to add Vista compatibility; unfortunately for him, doing this also replaced Three's connection manager with Vodafone's VMCLite software, which wouldn't let him connect to the Three network. One helpful chap had suggested that he looked at Three's Australian website. I decided to take a look too and bingo—updated firmware and an updated connection manager for the Huawei E220!

Before I go any further, I must point out that updating your modem with software not directly provided by Three (UK) is risky. If anything goes wrong ,you may find yourself unsupported by any warranties—so, if you're not sure or don't feel comfortable applying firmware updates, then I wouldn't advise you to continue. As Three (UK) don't supply firmware or application installers it will not be possible to reverse this update.

Okay, now that I've warned you, let's get down to business:

  • 1. Download the Firmware update and Mobile Manager Software update.
  • 2. Plug in the USB modem and wait for the Mobile Manager to start—then close it (exit, don't minimise).
  • 3. Run the Firmware update.
  • 4. Once the Firmware update has finished, you need to unplug the modem, leave it for a few seconds, and then plug it back in.
  • 5. Again, wait for the Mobile Manager application to launch and close it.
  • 6. Launch the Mobile Manager Software update and follow the installation through.
  • 7. After installing the software update, unplug the USB modem and open up Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel.
  • 8. Uninstall the ‘3 USB Modem' software.
  • 9. Plug the modem back in and allow it to automatically install the new version of Mobile Manager.

As you might imagine, it's not quite that straightforward and although the new Mobile Manager will show a 3G network, it fails to connect. This is due to the different APN name in Australia but can easily be rectified:

  • 1. Start the mobile Manager (Start > 3 Mobile broadband).
  • 2. From the toolbar, select ‘Settings > Network Connection Settings'.
  • 3. Create a new profile; I called mine ‘Three UK'.
  • 4. Leave everything as Default apart from the APN—this needs to be set to Static and ‘three.co.uk' entered in the textbox.
  • 5. Save the profile and click on ‘Connect'.

You should find that a HSDPA connection to the UK network is initiated without any further problems!

It's been a few days since I updated my modem and the Mobile Manager; so far, so good. I've tested the service in a few different locations, tried connecting and disconnecting and coming in/out of standby. I haven't seen a repeat of the connection issues I previously encountered—the modem connects first time, every time, with no need for annoying reboots! On a side-note, I noticed that the Firmware update increased the maximum connection speed of the modem from 3.8Mbps to 7.2Mbps, although this will have no effect on the connection speed as Three's UK network only goes up to 2.8Mbps.

I hope this quick guide helps a few people who have had the same kind of problems I had. I know how frustrating it has been for me and have informed Three's support outfit with the hope that they'll address the issues with an officially supported update on the UK Web site.

If you've experienced similar issues, found a different solution, or have any questions about the update process, then leave a comment.

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