peteg's blog - hacking - 2011 01 30 VirginBroadband

Virgin Mobile Broadband: it just works on everything but Mac OS X.

/hacking | Link

Coles was (and maybe still is) flogging these crappy Virgin Mobile-branded Huawei E160E modems for $24.50 (half-price), with 4Gb of data included. I figured that the modem is obsolete and hence probably well-supported, and while it is presumably locked to the Optus network, I could probably swap to a better Optus reseller or unlock it without too much hassle.

It turned out to be easy enough to get going under Windows XP, using the drivers on the modem. Similarly under Debian the default option driver does the trick, with some hackery of the chat script/ppp options. Mac OS X put up a fight though: the included drivers work fine (they're pretty generic anyway), but the included chat script was garbage. Maybe that Java monstrosity took care of all of that, I don't know. Once I twigged, patching in the relevant things from Debian did the trick.

Unscientifically, in Orange under Debian I initially got:

  apt-get install ...
  Fetched 42.9 MB in 13min 56s (51.3 kB/s)

Not terrible, but a long way from the 3.6Mbps (HSDPA, not HSUPA) this modem is capable of. Apparently the Optus network is saturated with tennis traffic, and Virgin supposedly massively oversubscribe anyway. Later it completely fell apart; under Mac OS X I got 11kbps sorts of speeds, i.e. slower than dialup, and similarly under Debian. Maybe I'm on the GPRS/GSM/EDGE/slowarse network. It doesn't bode well for mobility.

Update 2010-02-01: Back in Sydney I get about 2Mbps according to Oz Broadband Speed Test, and it does feel snappy.