Saturday, January 9, 2010

AT&T QuickSilver USB laptop "card" review

It amuses me a little bit that AT&T has still not enabled tethering for iPhones. My central argument is that just because iPhone users use more bandwidth on their phones does not necessarily imply that that "excess" usage would carry over to tethering. All AT&T has to do is price it they way they price tethering on other phones/devices. For instance, the Laptop Connect plan they offer on the USB dongles is either $35/mo for 200 MB, or $60/mo for 5 GB. If they priced tethering like this, then it wouldn't really matter that they used an iPhone or, like me, got a USB dongle.

I decided to go with an AT&T Quicksilver dongle. These are actually rebadged Option iCon 322s, so operationally they're equivalent. I was able to get it working 3 ways... Under VMWare Fusion with Windows XP, under Snow Leopard with their GlobeTrotter Connect software, and "semi natively" using the built-in networking.

If you just plug the Quicksilver into a mac without loading any drivers, nothing happens. If you then go and download the drivers that would appear to be the correct ones, you get mac kernel panics, which are otherwise known as the "grey screen of death." Not a good way to start. Googling around finally led me to relatively new Snow Leopard compatible drivers, which worked. With those drivers, and the GlobeTrotter software, I got a connection fairly quickly.

What's somewhat less wonderful about this is that behind the scenes, their software accomplishes this by setting up a whole new Networking "Location" with nothing but the laptop connect card in it. This can conceivably cause issues with VPN configurations. It would be much better in such circumstances to configure the network stack yourself. Fortunately, I found this blog post that has the instructions for setting it up.

As for the device itself, AT&T offers refurbished units free of charge with a 2 year contract. You can, instead, buy a new one for $99 and get a $100 mail-in rebate. For a device that is completely devoid of any user controls, I can't imagine why a refurbished unit wouldn't be perfectly acceptable as opposed to a new one.

The speed is just as good with each method. I was able to run some speed tests and got about a megabit up and down for the most part. The advantage of using the Globetrotter stuff is that you get a signal strength indicator. The advantage of using the control panel is being able to use a menu item icon to connect and disconnect, and potentially being more compatible with VPNs.

But potentially the best option is yet to come. I have a Netgear MBR624GU wireless router on order. If this combination works, then it will be the exact equivalent of a coffee house wifi hotspot that you can take with you anywhere you like. I'll revisit that topic when that device arrives in the mail.


Fasteddy said...

So, did you receive your modem?... and more importantly, did it work with the quicksilver card the way you intended?
I tried to use the quicksilver with Cradlepoints MBR 1000 and although it "worked", the internet strength was cut by so much that I was left with not much more than dial-up speed. With the card plugged directly into the cumputer, I get very respectable numbers... varies from 700 to 1500 mips... plenty enough to see real time video across the wireless device. So I had to ditch the wireless router for home networking for a while. The two don't play well together.

Nick said...

Not sure what you mean. The quicksilver card IS the "modem." I did get the router - it's reviewed in the next post. You're right about the signal strength being cut when it's attached directly to the router, but Netgear included a "dock" on the end of a 3 foot cable to ameliorate that problem.