[lug] ATT&T mobile broadband

Nate Duehr nate at natetech.com
Mon Mar 16 19:04:14 MDT 2009

Sheesh... the crowd here are quite the zealouts, aren't they?  

You didn't ask to get involved in a community Linux battle with AT&T, you
asked how to get one working.


In the sprit of helping you find the answer to your own question, instead of
worrying about the political and social woes of the world and complaining to
AT&T that they're not supporting an OS that hasn't even captured 1% of the
desktop market "space"... 

I think I'd just Google for "AT&T mobile broadband on Linux" and use
whatever other folks have gotten working with recent products.  


The modems themselves change models and sometimes manufacturers pretty
regularly, so yesterday's info about one will work with that one, but not
with "today's" model in the stores, sometimes.

The second hit for me on that exact Google search above, was a guy who also
had another BRILLIANT thought and posted the results on his blog...

Go to the retail store and ask to plug one of the demo units into your Linux
laptop to see if it comes up as a USB serial modem.  

Nothing too ultra-difficult about that... 

What they WON'T be able to help you with in most cases, is the modem setup
strings -- but if the modem works, those don't change much.

Having set up a number of these cards over the years... MOST (but not all)
of them are simply USB "modems" to the OS.  They come up with X driver that
links to usbserial driver, and it's a done deal.  

Some don't work at all under Linux, but OFTEN that's simply because the USB
module was written without that specific manufacturer code in it... these
are logged in the system logs, so often folks will try recompiling the
kernel after hacking that code into the C source for the "most likely"
driver -- and usually it works -- but if you're not comfortable with ANY of
that... just look for an older card/USB stick that's known to work.  The old
PCMCIA cards also often came up as modems, if you want to go that route.  I
have an old 1XRTT GSM card from Sony that's both 802.11b and GSM in the same
card... and under Linux both can be activated simultaneously.  It's "too
slow" in today's world to really use, but it was great 5 years ago.

No matter what, you'll have to feed them special modem command strings to
have them "dial" the network, at least the GSM ones.  I haven't played with
the EVDO ones, but you asked specifically about AT&T -- so they won't apply.

So make sure your distro either supports GUI-based changes to the modem
dial-out and setup strings, or get comfortable with command-line editing of
the ppp configuration, and pop one in and see what dmesg says... most of
them nowadays "just work"... but you may have to fiddle with the "modem"
settings in your GUI/ppp configuration to point those applications at the
device name they come up as... 

Be careful with AT&T... they're highly "punitive" about anything over 5GB a
month being billed out at $0.47 a megabyte and if you roam it can go WAY
higher than that.  Disable roaming on the device altogether to make sure it
doesn't connect if you regularly travel outside the country, or anywhere
near a U.S. border... 

Another thing to watch for that's not a GUARANTEE, but might help... any of
the modems that works with Mac OSX machines PROBABLY doesn't have a special
Mac driver for that... it's just coming up as a USB serial device.  Most of
the manufacturers are WAY too lazy to develop anything like the "winmodem"
type land-line modems that had the Windows OS doing all the heavy lifting
for these even smaller production runs of wireless cellular modems.  It's
WAY easier for them just to make them act like any USB serial modem device,
and call it "done" for all OS's.  But what does this mean to you?  The ones
that say they're "Mac compatible" are likely also "Linux compatible" on any
modern Linux kernel that isn't too old... you just won't get any fancy
driver discs that have APPLICATION software on the disc to manage the modem,
show you signal strength, etc.

That's the ONE thing I would say is still a given... there aren't any good
Linux apps to do any of that.  I always kept the machine that had the mobile
data card in it set up for dual-boot, or a Windows or Mac machine "handy"
somewhere with the carrier's "official driver disc" (which is actually both
a windows serial/USB driver, and application software to manage the modem's
internal settings) loaded and handy somewhere.  Managing these things
through Linux and sending un-documented AT commands to the modem is a huge
hassle still today...

Logging into AT&T's "small biz" site is often the best place to find data on
their data products, instead of their "consumer" site, too... just as a


Okay, starting with the bottom one, Googling for the name "USBConnect
Quicksilver Linux" brought up some things... since these have a built-in SD
card/storage device... the Linux kernel is tricked into seeing only the
storage and not the modem.  There's (I guess) applications that will muck
around with the device number in the device to "fix" that.


So some Googling for the other USB stick seems to turn up similar problems.

The best option SEEMS to be (for brain-dead, just works...) the
SierraAirCard 881 up there... but that's a PCMCIA card, so you have to
decide if you want to mess with that... 

The two at the top are obviously for ExpressCard 34 slots, and I have zero
experience with those.

Another REDICULOUSLY cheesy, but probably would work wonderfully option...
leave the base OS on the machine either Windows or Mac OSX, and run Linux in
a virtual machine... (GRIN)!  Share the networking love!  (Ha!)

Seriously... there's a lot of options.  None of them "officially" supported
by any carrier, nor any likely to be anytime soon... 


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