SquatTelecoms

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This page looks at providing internet access (along with incoming and outgoing phone lines if required) in a squat, protest camp, or any other non permanently occupied space where a fixed contract services might not be practical or possible. (updated June 2009)

Introduction

This is apparently the information age (although most of that 'info' appears to be celebrity trivia and other worthless nonsense). Effective communications are vital to effective organising so providing autonomous spaces with good communication tools is very important. However, by their nature, autonomous spaces tend to be temporary and economically challenged so this document looks at how those limitations can be addressed.

This document begins by running through various possible ways to provide telecoms then finally suggests some example systems based on 3G connectivity. If you don't care about how and why we reached these conclusions then skip directly to the example systems for how to provide phone and internet in a temporary space for under £100 equipment cost and from just £5 per month.

ADSL / Cable

Getting service from telecoms companies is a hassle. They want fix term contracts and require names, addresses, credit checks, direct debit etc etc. Broadband internet normally requires that you have a BT landline (which requires contract and monthly line rental) and normally involves a 12 month contract. All these requirements can make it difficult and expensive to sort out telecoms at a squat or similar temporary space but advancing technology now offers alternatives.

Alternative Internet Connectivity

Wireless Internet

In theory wireless internet is great, if it is available. Don't worry about having the latest and greatest wifi speeds like the 108mbps G standard, the original 11mbps 802.11b standard was and is more than enough speed for an internet connection. Ensuring a strong signal is the key to maintaining decent speed.

Open nodes, theft and friendly contacts

These days, stealing wifi on a regular basis is much harder than a few years ago and most people have locked down their access points. It is still possible (if you are lucky) so it is worth doing a proper wifi audit of what's available in your area. It is also possible to crack WEP encryption (quiet easy in fact) or trick people into revealing WPA keys, but such approaches are generally illegal and unethical.

If the only access points available are locked, perhaps you can ask around in the neighbourhood and find somebody willing to share their connection. If there are open nodes available nearby but too weak to use directly then look into using directional high gain antennas. If you can get line of sight you can cover miles with directional antennas so you could probably sort out a friendly contact to supply a connection.

Check out these links for DIY high gain antennas - 1 | 2 | 3

Commercial Hotspots

In some circumstances you might also consider using commercial hotspots. T-mobiles 'Unlimited HotSpot plan' is £20 per month. And even more expensive option is their Limited Period Pass. 24 hours costs an outrageous £10 while a month weights in at £40! BT Openzone limited period passes cost the same and their subscription costs are also pretty shit.

  • £5/month 500 mins, £17/month 2000 mins, £25/month 4000 mins

All prices ex VAT. Minimum 12-month term applies. That is really crap!

Perhaps more convenient for occasional high traffic use is FON at about £2 per day. You can check if they have a hotspot near you via this interactive map

I tried out a £5 per month deal from Boingo (http://www.boingo.com/) but I never actually managed to find one of their 3,500 UK hotspots. If you are lucky enough to be near one, then it may be a bargain.

Mobile Broadband

These days, broadband over the mobile networks is an affordable and viable alternative to ADSL or Wifi. Although the bandwidth and speed can not (yet) compete with a fat ADSL connection, it can work out cheaper and is much easier to organise. No contract, pay as you go, you stay in control and can move the whole system whenever you want and as often as you want without any hassle.

Speeds

The old 2G GSM systems managed just 114 kbps max, with 56kbps being more typical (same speed as old fashion dialup). GPRS networks (sometimes referred to as 2.5G) manage a much more respectable 384kbps. Data transfer rates on 3G UMTS/HSDPA are much faster 1.8mbps or 2.4mbps is often quoted and faster speeds are being rolled out. 7.2mbps is already being offered by some networks and there is promise of even higher speeds. However, you never get the speeds they quote.

It's worth noting that the 3G upload speeds are very low compared to the download speeds, typically 384kbps max (although that is actually a little higher than earlier ADSL offers). This should not be a problem and I know it's perfectly possible to stream radio and video from these connections but it is worth being aware before you plan running some kind of server.

While the 3G speeds are quite reasonable, the capped downloads mean you won't want to make a habit of using these systems for downloading video or doing file sharing.

Coverage

3G data connections are not available nationwide. While you'll probably have no problem in major cities, many out of town places will not be covered yet. A rural convergence space is therefore unlikely to be able to take advantage of UMTS/HSDPA speeds. GPRS however is much more wide spread so you should stand a good chance of being able to get 384kbps which is still useful. Obviously coverage will improve as the networks roll out the technology. Vodafone seems to be leading the way in terms of the best coverage.

The Ofcom site http://www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk/ is very useful for locating the nearest repeater masts and finding out whether 3G will be available in any specific location.

Tariffs

T'mobile Web'n'Walk is £7.50 per month if you have contract but on pay-as-you-go data use is capped at £1 per day. This isn't very competitive compare to deals offered by Three (see below) but if you are not using the internet everyday, then this might be worth using, for example, when supplying internet during weekend long gatherings.

Vodafone offers the highest speeds available and have been following the other networks in lowering prices to be more competitive. They now also have a PAYG option capped at £1 per day. I've not experienced Orange and O2 and various forums suggest they are crap but things change so it may be worth checking out the latest tariffs before writing them off.

Three
Internet Addon

Cheapest you can go on pay-as-you-go appears to with Three from just £5 per month at present and capped at 2gb (50p per day, 2.50 per week, 5 per month). This deal is meant to be for customers browsing the net from their mobile phones, not users of 3G modems plugged into laptops. I expected them to have somehow limited the connectivity to web browsing protocols only but I've successful used Skype and other VoIP system on it and that works! I've also managed to do bittorrent filesharing although at quite limited speeds.

Getting on this deal is a tiny bit complicated and is best done with access to a phone on the three network. Buy a £10 top up voucher in a shop. Activate the credit using the phone (dial 444). Now, (best done using the phones web browser) go online to three.co.uk and login to my3. Then go and buy the £5 internet add on from the £10 credit. Now buy a second £5 internet add on so that you have two months worth 'queued' and zero credit left over. Whatever you do, don't leave credit on there as when you use your 2gb allowance you will consume all remaining credit in a mater of minutes.

Mobile Broadband Deal

There doesn't seem much point in paying for their official mobile broadband package. It's possible that you'd find ports or protocols available here which might be blocked on the 'internet add on' deal described above but I've not found any yet.

You don't need a three phone to top up and purchase the mobile broadband package. £15 per month gets you 3gb (£10 per month 1gb, £25 for 7gb).

Again, it is vital that you don't leave any credit as you will use it all the moment you have exceed your download cap.

UPDATE: Three now provide a 15GB per month for £15 deal! It is only available as a 18 month contract but still, that's pretty cool.

Hardware

You need a data card / modem and should check that the model you choose is supported by your operating system or router. You'll also want to check it is a 3G (UMTS/HSPDA) and not simple a GPRS capable of only 384kbps. Having said that, don't turn your nose up at 384kbps - it's actually pretty fast depending on your needs.

PCMCIA / PC Card

The PCMCIA variety seem generally cheaper than the USB type for some reason, probably due to consumer confusion. At the time of writing, £10 to £20 should get you a suitable second hand PC Card. It can be a little difficult to identify exactly what any specific model is capable of. Look for ones which specify UMTS/HSDPA or look up the specs to check they manage speeds beyond GPRS.

This search will bring up ebay auctions for PC Cards.

USB

USB 3g data modems can now be had of little more than £15 second hand. The new price for the cheapest models has now been slashed yet again to just £25. Prices on ebay sometimes exceed the new price in store and second hand prices take a while to adapt to reality so be careful.

This search will bring up ebay auctions for USB modems.

It's worth noting that most of these don't have connections for external antennas (they seem more common on PCMCIA data cards for some reason). Both the commonly available Huawei E220 and ZTE MF622 have antenna connections inside but they are non standard but it is possible to open them up and solder on a pig tail. Attaching a nice high gain antenna is great if you need to boost signals (see below). I know of a germany company that specialises in do this and supply parts and instructions ([1]).

The ZTE MF622 is nice - it is slimmer than the E220, runs cooler, easy access to it's (non standard) antenna socket, and doesn't use an easy to loose sim card tray. However, I'd suggest sticking with the E220 because I know it is possible to remove the network lock for free, has firmware updates available and has better out of the box support under linux and existing 3G routers. I've started looking at the E272 (E270) which may potentially provide more consistent high speed transfers (especially uplink sppeds).

External Antennas

The antennas built into 3G modems are a compromise. They are small, badly located and partially shielded by nearby electronics and cables. If you can't get a good signal then what you want is an external antenna that can be located somewhere more suitable.

3G/UMTS operates at 2100mhz so antennas built for wifi (2400mhz) are generally not suitable. Cheap 3G antennas intended for car users are available on ebay for under a tenner. I've also located a germany company that sell Bi-Quad 12dBi antenna using a CD as a reflector (which looks so cool I've ordered one). It costs about £13 ([2] / [3]).

If your 3G modem does not have an external antenna socket then you will have to add your own. That german company will do it for you if you don't fancy doing it yourself.

Network Locks / Unlocking

Like mobile phones, the network company often lock these devices to their own network in order to ensure they recoup any subsidy they've made to the hardware price. You are probably better off being a device that you know works with the network you wish to use rather than assuming you will be able to get it unlocked, or buy one which is already unlocked.

The networks are required by law to provide the unlock code for free after the contract on the device has ended (usually 12 months). They will also provide the unlock code earlier for a fee (usually £18).

Satellite

Satellite is the only telephony and data wide-area network technology that is available everywhere - in even the most remote urban and rural areas, rain forests or concrete jungles, anywhere in the world. All that's needed is a clear view of the sky.

Rural internet provision could be made via satellite where landlines are impractical, wireless non existent and mobile coverage insufficient. This is not a cheap option but it may be the only option. It's how internet has been provided at various gatherings, action camps and indymedia field centres in previous years. Economically it's probable not worth doing if mobile networks can provide 3G speeds in the required location.

Terminology

The satellite modem is referred to as the IDU (In-Door Unit). The transceiver (the ray gun part on the arm of the dish) is referred to as the ODU (Out-Door Unit) and is comprised of the receiver or LNB (Low-Noise Block), the transmitter or BUC (Block-Up Converter) and the OMT (Orthogonal-Mode Transducer), the latter being the bit that connects the LNB, BUC and ray-gun together. The whole thing (IDU+ODU) is known as a SIT (Satellite Internet Terminal).

The satellite itself (the thing in geo-stationary orbit around the Earth) is often referred to as the bird and aligning the dish to point at the correct bird is known as pointing, a well-aligned dish being known as an excellent point.

Two Way

Two-way (or bi-directional) satellite Internet service sends data from remote sites via satellite to a hub, which then sends the data to the Internet. The satellite dish at each location must be precisely positioned to avoid interference with other satellites. A line of sight between the dish and the satellite is required for the system to work. This line of sight connexion will generally need a unobstructed view to the southern sky at an elevation of between 25 and 40 degrees between about 35 degrees due east and 35 degrees due west of south (bearing of 145 - 215 degrees).

The equipment required is not particularly cheap, being around the 2,500 pounds mark for dish, stand, satellite modem, and transceiver unit and neither are the subscription and bandwidth charges (between 200 and 250 per calendar month on average, and depending upon the package). Speeds are comparable to 3G and are nowhere near as contended as for 3G or ADSL. An average package will offer between 512kb/s and 1.5Mb/s download and 384kb/s and 600kb/s upload. There may or may not be a capping of download monthly bandwidth usage (often between three and five gigabytes of data transfer).

The system discussed above is DVB-RCS (Digital Video Broadcast-Return Channel via Satellite). There is also the cheaper VSAT platform (supplied by Gilat) and this is much lower cost and much crappier connexion speeds (uplink max 512kbps and downlink 64kbps (yes 64kbps!)).

Some suppliers of equipment in the UK that can be recommended are DC Sat Net and Avonline.

As well as the above mentioned equipment, you will also need a compatible satellite meter or spectrum analyser, a compass, a GPS, and a set of spanners (10", 12", 13" and 17") to get the thing set up.

One way with terrestrial return

Cheaper than full two way access with satellite uplink is a one-way terrestrial return satellite Internet system where outbound data travels over the phone system but downloads come via satellite to provide higher speed. There would be not point to this if 3G coverage is available but when only 2G is available it might be worth a look. The upload volume is usually very low compared to download, the lower speed of upload is not to much of a problem. Using a 33 cm wide satellite dish, laptop and GPRS modem, users can get mobile satellite broadband anywhere in the UK.

Example UK provider RapidSat. Getting the dish and DVB-IP modem from them costs about £200 although a standard Sky dish can be used to keep costs down. Their monthly contracts start from £17. Their so-called 'pay-as-you-go' package cost £85 per year with download speed of just 512kbps. That's crap compared to 3G but they claim burst speeds of 1.5mbps (or 2mbps with on different tarrifs). Unlike the current 3G offers there is no download cap as such although speeds decline after you reach a set 'limit'.

Another UK provider is BeyonDSL offering 'OpenSky' from £20 per month. Again, there is no overall download limit but speedy service is only guaranteed upto specific limits. Even though the "pipe" itself is 2Mbit/s, you should not expect to see this speed as performance is managed to deliver an average of 500kbs over the subscription month during your priority quota. When you've used up your quota you will find speeds drop during busy periods.

Local Area Networking

Once you have your internet you'll probably want it made available to more than one computer. You might have a PC or laptop used as a gateway and share it's internet connection via it's ethernet port to a switch or via a wifi device.

However, desktops use stupid amounts of power if left on 24/7 and you might not want to leave a laptop laying around and switched on all the time either in which case a dedicated 3G gateway/router is the way to go. These are currently quite rare and expensive although I bet they'll be many more about with the next couple of years.

Wired

Running wires round the building can be a pain in the arse but generally this is the cheapest and most reliable solution if you want many terminals.

A cheap ethernet switch and a bunch or cat5 cabling can quickly network a room full of computers. Just share the network connection from your gateway (laptop or 3g router) and you are done.

Wifi

Security, price and performance have improved massively in the last couple of years so an all wireless network is now totally viable and preferable if all you terminals are not in the same room. USB wifi dongles can be had for as little as a fiver and a second hand access point for maybe 20 quid. Linksys make good wireless routers and you might want to look into third party firmware such as OpenWRT

The all in one solution is a 3G router with wireless such as the Draytek 2910G or Linksys WRT54G3G. Get one of those and job done! (obviously all your workstations will need wireless dongles/cards)

Phone Provision

POTS / PSTN

Yup, the Plain Old Telephone System (PSTN) provided by BT and their ilk in the UK is a pain in the arse, what with contracts, monthly line rental and huge bills to argue over every couple of months. We don't want none of that so lets forget POTS. We can find ways to make and receive calls without them.

Mobiles

Increasingly people are using mobiles anyway and they can be highly competitive to land line bills since they don't have line rental. A pay-as-you-go mobile is a great way to provide an incoming line for a squat but you probably wouldn't want to make a habit of using a mobile for outgoing calls (or look at pay monthly sim only deals like t-mobile Solo 30).

One issue with mobiles is the very real potential of having somebody walk off with your phone and while they are cheap and easily replaced, it is very annoying to loose the phone number you have advertised.

GSM Gateway / Fixed Cellular Terminal

These niffty toys could be useful. You stick your SIM card in it and plug in a normal phone or a few if you want. You can even plug in standard FAX machines and answer phones systems. You are far less likely to have your house mobile walk out of the building if you use this system as you can have the GSM gateway device located in a safe inaccessible place and just run phone extensions to places where they'll be most useful.

They can be had for about £40

VoIP

If you've managed to sort out your broadband connectivity then you can now make cheap or even free calls thanks to voice over internet protocols (VoIP). VoIP protocols generally use between 8-32Kb/s of bandwidth so a 3G connection should be more than adequate (it's crap on satellite connections due to latency time lags).

Using VoIP has a lot of advantages for social centres, housing coops, resources centers etc. and it's not just about being able to get cheap or free calls. Nobody can run up huge bills as you have to buy credit in advance like on a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. Accounts can be set up for each individual user or campaigns group and protected by PIN codes. Not only that, you can set up and use multiply 'virtual' lines at the same time (with different numbers if you want) without having to get additional phone lines installed which obviously saves a load of money.

You can make and receive VoIP calls either on your computer workstations (using a softphone like skype, wengophone etc) or better yet, ordinary phones plugged into analogue telephone adapters on your network. Some routers have ATA VoIP provision built in.

It's easy to get free or cheap telephone numbers directed to you VoIP phone so you have a normal number that people can phone in on.

Don't expect brilliant quality.

Soft phones

A softphone is a software program for making telephone calls over the Internet using a general purpose computer, rather than dedicated hardware. A softphone is usually used with a headset connected to the sound card of the PC, or with a USB phone.

Skype is the one everyone has heard of but unless you have a good reason to use it you should probably do your bit for freedom and use a non proprietary system. Closed proprietary systems can't place a direct calls to other systems. To communicate, both end-points must have the same communication protocol and at least one common audio codec. Most service providers use a communication protocol called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), except Skype which is a totally proprietary system and Google Talk which is based on Jabber.

SIP clients worth looking at include OpenWengo and Xlite.

IP phones

These are hardware phones which plug into your ethernet network rather than a normal phone line. They are digital devices and the audio is converted and transferred over the internet, ie. they are voice over internet phones and require no additional hardware or software to work once configured and plugged into the net. They tend to be quite expensive. As well as IP phones that plug into ethernet, you can also get Wifi IP phones which operate via wireless networks.

Analogue Telephone Adapters

An ATA usually takes the form of a small box with a power adapter, ethernet port and one or more telephone ports. Users can plug standard analog telephone devices into the ATA and they'll operate, usually transparently, on a VoIP network. Most ATA devices communicates with a server using the SIP protocol. Since the ATA communicates directly with the VoIP server, it does not require any software, such as a softphone, to be run on a computer.

Sipura SPA-2000, Cisco ATA 186 and the Linksys PAP2 are common examples of ATA hardware. Most retail new at about £40 and £15 to £20 is an achievable 2nd hand price on ebay. Make sure the device is not locked to one SIP provider like Vonage.

At the time of writing, you can get a suitable device for 'free' from here [4], just pay £8 p&p.

Skype

As mentioned before, Skype is a proprietary closed system. Although the protocol has been crack by Chinese hackers and apparently third party clients are now available, it's use still means supporting a mega corp (in this case Ebay). However, there are good reasons you might like to use Skype anyway.

Three give you free skype calls for a month (4,000 minutes worth!!) whenever you make a top up and that should mean that skype calls don't come out of the data download quotas. While Skype does work on the £5 per month web only internet deal, I can't tell if the bandwidth is coming out of the download quota or not.

Being as widely used as it is, Skype is also supported by manufactures making hardware voip phones so much like the ATA devices described above you can also get specifically Skype phones to plug into your router or connect via wifi. Sadly, these are probably easier to set up than the open standard SIP phones.

Three Skypephone

It's worth mentioning the Three Skpyphone which is now available from Sainsburys and Woolworths for just £40 (including £10 credit). Just put £10 a month onto this mobile phone and get 4,000 minutes of skype calls, internet etc. Although speeds will be limited to 115kbps for internet, you can use these phones as a USB or bluetooth modem to connect your laptop to the internet. This might be a cheap solution to providing a site phone and occasional internet access.

In order to protect it's revenue, the skype software installed is crippled to exclude the use of the SkypeIn and SkypeOut service which connects skype to PSTN networks for real calls. However, there are workarounds if you have access to an always on windows machine somewhere that is connected to ADSL ([5]).

Asterisk / OpenPBX

Asterisk is an open source/free software implementation of a telephone private branch exchange (PBX). Like any PBX, it allows a number of attached telephones to make calls to one another, and to connect to other telephone services including the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Asterisk can interoperate with most SIP telephones, acting both as registrar and as a gateway between IP phones and the PSTN. Asterisk developers have also designed a new protocol, Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX2), for efficient trunking of calls among Asterisk PBXes, and to VoIP service providers who support it. Some telephones support the IAX2 protocol directly for communicating with an Asterisk serve.

The basic software includes many features available in proprietary PBX systems: voice mail, conference calling, interactive voice response (phone menus), and automatic call distribution.

While Asterisk is the world's leading open source telephony engine, there are others, such as OpenPBX (now called callweaver I think).

Blasterisk

NOW GONE!! BLASTERISK is the free BLAG telephone service for Free Software users, developers, and random activists. BLASTERISK allows users to use regular POTS ("plain old telephone service") telephones or software telephones (softphones) to connect to the system. Callers can then make outgoing international phone calls, enter conference rooms, leave voicemail, check voicemail, do interviews, etc.

BLASTERISK uses the Free Software application asterisk.

see also http://docs.indymedia.org/view/Local/ImcUkPhoneServices

Example Systems

Cheapest Solution

  • Buy a Skypephone from Three

This is a really simple and cheap solution, ideal for protest camps without mains (take them to somebodies house or plug into a small solar panel to charge).

At the time of writing, these mobile phones cost £49 from Three and include £10 worth of credit. Apparently Woolworths and Sainsbury are doing them ten quid cheaper. They go for about £25 - £35 quid second hand on ebay.

The deal with these is that if you put £10 of credit on you get one months worth of free skype to skype calls. The small print is that you are limited to 4,000 minutes of calls in that month, that is almost 70 hours). If you use £5 of that credit to purchase the internet add on then you get 2gb of internet use as well and leave yourself with £5 for actually making normal phone calls.

People can phone in using the mobile number (at normal costs) or phone for free using skype from anywhere in the world. You can call other skype users for free or call normal phone numbers at the rates charged by three for mobile calls. You can't official use the 'skype out' service to make cheap skype calls to normal phones as they've disabled it somehow in order to ensure they still make money, however, if you really want it I know you can make it happen.

You can also use the phone for occasional internet access, either using the on phone browser and tiny screen or by using the phone as a modem to connect your laptop via USB or bluetooth. Speeds will be limited to 115kbps but that's ok for fetching email and looking up the odd web page or two.

Update: The WP-S1 has been replaced by the S2 at a higher price with much faster modem. The old S1 can be found for about £25 second hand while the S2 goes for more like £40.

Better but much more expensive

The Nokia N95 is an awesome piece of kit and totally undersold for what it is. The stupid adverts just make it out as another MP3 playing web browsing phone but this beauty has 3G, wifi and even a built in GPS. It will do everything that the skypephone described above would do but obviously much faster. Additionally you can even set it up to act as a portable 3G wireless router providing a roving wifi hotspot wherever you has 3G connectivity.

The camera on it is pretty good as well, taking very impressive video. Battery life is relatively poor and these are not cheap but there is little else that compares. Having said all that, it probably not suitable as a protest site phone because it is a high value item and may well vanish into somebodies pocket.

Update. I've bought the N95 for as little as £90 and the N93 can be had even cheaper, perhaps £60 (although it's modem is not as fast).

Dedicated 3G gateway

This the the setup used relatively successfully at Bowl Court social centre.

(Look here for a list of other compatible modems)

These two bits of kit can be had for under 75 pounds second hand. Together they will enable you to provide both wired and wireless broadband internet connectivity to your building from just 5 pounds per month! Place it fairly centrally in the building somewhere where you get a good mobile signal and that's it. Just the one small box, and one power socket and you are good to go. Power consumption will average under 10 to 15 watts.

There are several Draytek models with a little known feature which allows you to provide 'backup' internet connectivity via 3G by plugging a USB broadband model into the 'printer' port. If you don't have any other form of connectivity then you can just use the 3G access all the time. This enables you to provide broadband access anywhere in the UK (subject to network coverage).

The models which include 3G support are the Vigor 2800 series, the 2820, 2910 and the 3100. Personally I think the 2820 or the 2910 might be the best models to get as they act as a dual WAN router which is far more useful to us than an ADSL router. In other words, with the ADSL router models we will only be routing via the 3G as we don't have or want an ADSL line. However, with the dual WAN router we have the option of trying to provide connectivity via another mechanism such as a WIFI device in client mode.

Whichever model is choosen, the set up process is very easy and described on the draytek website. Support from Draytek is very good.

Wifi

If you have a model with the G suffix then the router contains a wireless access point. If it doesn't you can always plug in a standard wireless access point into one of the ethernet ports or just use a wired network.

VoIP

If you get a model with the V suffix it means you can also plug ordinary phones into it and provide cheap VoIP outgoing and incoming phone calls (although this might not work with the web only £5 per month deal). If you don't have the V model that doesn't mean you can't use VoIP, it just means you'd have to do it via a computer (like skype) or buy IP phones or analogue telephone adapters (ATA) to enable you to plug in ordinary phones. Setting up an ATA is usually quite complicated as it requires 'Nat traversal' or port forwarding but it's really simple if you use the Draytek DMZ function.

Alternate Equipment

I recommend the Draytek because I have used it and know it works. Other 3G routers include the Linksys WRT54G3G (search ebay). They are currently quite rare second hand and use PCMCIA not USB data modems. There appear to be issues with limited compatibility with available data modems and getting them to work with networks other than vodafone but you can install third party firmware such as DD-WRT. Prices are coming down, I've seen them for as little as £70.

Other possibles include the D-Link DIR-451 (which takes either PCMCIA or USB modems) and some models in the Billion BiPAC range. You might also come across 3G routers by NexConnect and unbranded stuff like the WMQ139. Much rarer are enterprise quality 3G routers from Sarian systems - they are pricey but you might find a badly advertised one on ebay that goes at a bargain price.

Generally, the 3G modem and SIM is not supplied with the router, you obtain them separately.

More info here [6]

Do not ask your cellphone company about using 3G routers, most specifically prohibit their use in their Terms and Conditions!

UPDATE - Make your own 3G router

This is very cool. Using a standard wireless router with a USB port it is now possible to make a 3G router by installing third party firmware. The Asus WL-500g v2 seems to be the router of choice and can be purchased for under £50 new. Add your 3G USB modem such as the E220 and install the OpenWRT firmware. This could well work out the cheapest and most flexible approach if you can locate a second hand router that is compatible with the firmware and provides a USB port.

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies-archive.cfm/880784.html http://www.nslu2-linux.org/wiki/HowTo/AddUsb3gModem http://www.umtslink.at/3g-forum/showthread.php?p=528907#post528907 (in german)

If you have some kind of storage device attached as well then you could run a caching web proxy (such as squid) which would improve apparent performance.

Laptap as a gateway

An oldish laptop (perhaps one with a busted screen) can provide your internet gateway using a cheap PCMCIA data card and an ethernet switch or wireless access point. If you have one lying about then this is probably the cheapest way to set up this kind of a system. A wifi dongle which can be configured as an access point and you've got a fairly tidy little equivalent to a dedicated wireless 3G gateway. However, such a system will probably not be as simple to set up and configure and it will use more energy than a dedicated router.

There are potentially major advantages to using an old laptop as a gateway and that is that you can run additional software on there to add important features such as a caching web proxy. Doing this could greatly reduce the amount of data being downloaded over the 3G connection and make the download quota last longer. It would also speed up apparent download times.

If you were planning on running some kind of 'always on' server anyway (such as an application server in a thin client system) then you might as well utilise it as your 3G gateway rather than spend more on additional equipment.

Glossary of Terms

  • 1G - You never hear this but it refers to the first generation of mobile phone systems based on analogue radio technology. Basically, they were wireless phones bigger than bricks and shown off by yuppies in their Audio Quatros in the eighties.
  • 2G - This stands for second generation mobile phone systems. It's the digital successor to 1G. Often also known as GSM (Global System for Mobile communication), 2G mobiles gave people the chance to send and receive text messages and small data files.
  • 2.5G - A better, faster version of 2G that makes it easier for you to send bigger chunks of data. 2.5G technology uses either GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE? (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) systems.
  • 3G - This stands for third generation mobile phone systems working at much higher speeds than previoud networks so allowing video calls and TV over mobile (why would anyone want that?). 3G provides high-speed data transmission at rates up to 384 kilobits/second or even higher with HSDPA. The dominant version of 3G is called UMTS which is based on Wideband-CDMA coding and compatible with the old 2.5G GSM Networks.
  • GSM - the most common type of cellular phone network used around the world. See 2G
  • Ethernet - A wire based computer networking standard that using cable known as CAT5. Previously you would have come across ethernet using coaxial cables.
  • Switch - a device that allows many computers to exchange data via ethernet cable. A hub is similar but not 'smart' and much slower.
  • Wifi - a general standard for wireless computer networking on the 2.4ghz radio spectrum. There is also equipement designed for 5ghz.
  • Access Point (Node, Hotspot) - A device providing access to a wireless network.
  • Router (Gateway) - A device that handles the transfer of networking data between two different networks infrastructure such as wireless and wired.
  • PCMCIA - a credit card sized slot in a laptop for plugging in additional devices. Also known as PC Card but there is actually a slight difference.
  • USB - The universal serial bus is a standard port for plugging in accessories like printers, mice, hard drives, cd burners, and 3G

modems.

  • Caching - the practise of keeping copies of requested data locally so when they get requested again, they can be supplied instantly.
  • Broadband - in the context of internet it can be considered to be any internet connection providing speeds of 384kbps or above.
  • VoIP - protocols optimized for the transmission of voice over the Internet - the concept is also referred to as IP telephony, Internet telephony, voice over broadband and broadband telephony.