Trying Out the Verizon UM175 USB Modem with Linux

I always thought it would be beyond cool to have a cellular modem or air card or whatever you like to call them.  You know, the devices that plug into a laptop and give you a net connection almost wherever you are.  Yes, those.

You know how they say be careful of what you wish for because you might get what you want?  I did.  I have to make sure the work network is up all the time.  I asked our phone department to order one and they damn near complied.  I asked if there was a USB model and they told me yes.  Two days later, my PCMCIA card arrived.

To their credit, the phone department asked haltingly if this was what I ordered.  Not if I ordered a USB modem, no.  They returned it, promising two day turnaround.

Two weeks later I inquired as to its status.

Oh, you wanted me to exchange it?

Um…  yes.    [sarcasm would've gotten me nowhere]

Two days later it showed up.  Yay!

As soon as I opened it, I realized I had forgotten to check linux compatibility.  The reason this occurred to me is that Verizon, in their infinite wisdom, only provided instructions and software for Windows and Mac.  I was about to call Verizon and have a bit of fun with them when that little voice, which sounds dangerously like mine, mocked me by telling me what I always tell my wife:  the internet is the answer to every question.

Within a few minutes I had info about the modem and a few similar pages on how to hook it up under Ubuntu.  Yay again!

Since I have to be on the road today, it would be a good day to test the modem out.  I got out the device and the directions that I cleverly printed out (and even more cleverly remembered to bring with me) and hit the First Big Question<tm>.  Was the modem activated?

How the $*#@ should I know if the modem was activated?

The directions for Macs stated that they should do one thing if the modem was activated and another thing if the modem wasn’t activated.   Great.   I knew that if it needed to be activated, linux might be a problem.

Ding ding ding!  I fired up my XP virtual machine and installed the software.  Boy, that was a neat idea.   Well, it was a neat idea until I installed the software and it told me to plug in the modem.  I plugged it in and XP sat there, staring at me.  Since there was no USB indicator on XP I figured maybe I hadn’t put USB in the Vmware config file.

Lovely.   Shut down XP.  Edit the config file.

Hang on…. it says USB PRESENT = “TRUE”.   Why didn’t it show up?

Fire up XP again.  Still no USB, in spite of the config file telling it to attach.  I plugged in my USB memory stick, which was found in a second.  Great (again).  Of course this isn’t going to work.  Nothing is easy, no matter how much the packaging indicates it will be.

Giving up on the virtual XP, I installed the software on my wife’s old laptop.  This was considerably more cooperative.  It took its time but downloaded all sorts of `updates’ and eventually connected just fine.  Yay!

Consulting my printed directions, I went with Step One:

  • Step One: plug it into a USB port

Now that’s a Step One I can relate to.  Onto Step Two:

  • Step Two: bring up gnome-ppp

Oops.  Somehow I knew this was going to happen: I didn’t have gnome-ppp.  Fortunately I hadn’t disabled the internal wireless card so I could go fetch it.  Then I’d have to find it because I use XFCE, in which nothing shows up in the menus.

Ok, I have gnome-ppp up.  I have filled in the random boxes with the suggested gobbledygook.

  • Step Three: Click Connect.

Check.

  • Step Four: there is no Step Four.  You’re connected.

Cool!

Well, not so cool, actually.   Perhaps the laptop and modem could not read, so they didn’t know they were supposed to be online by now.  All I know is that my browser couldn’t find any sites.

Isn’t it just wacky, the way they claim it’s so easy in the instructions?  And these are some guy’s instructions, borne out of his experience getting the thing to connect and put on the web in hopes of helping others.  I had half a mind to ring him up and demand he make it work :)

Since I brought up gnome-ppp in a terminal, I watched the output.  It looked like it should be connected… it kinda did what I told it to via the GUI and sat there.  This does not mean that it was connected, no sir.  It just looked like it should be connected.

I kept looking for something from the output of dmesg, with absolutely no luck.  I tried lsusb.  I even tried typing with my right hand only, to no avail.

So I took the computer technician’s Final Solution<tm>: I cursed at the entire setup.  Repeatedly.  I even ad-libbed some bits about the heritage of Verizon techs and the relative merits of different ways of killing them.

I think this must’ve had some effect (perhaps it was the ad-libs) because I noticed there was new output from dmesg, stating that it had located something or other and now it was happy.

A quick url into the browser settled it:  IT WORKS!!!

So the guy who said it was easy as pie was right.  For him, easy as pie is three steps.  For me, it’s closer to twenty with a lot of screaming.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

You plug it in and go through the steps above, silly.

HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?

Define `well’.

I picked a random site (vintageguitar.com – perhaps semi-random) and out of curiosity went to the GPTV section (guitar player television).  This was strangely named, as it seemed to consist entirely of embedded YouTube videos.  The first two ran flawlessly.

The third started to stutter.  Everything after that stuttered madly.  We’re talking three to five minute clips, not streaming tv.  I gave up quickly.

I haven’t had it out of the house yet but I typed the first half of this entry with it.  Therefore it’s safe to say it works (inside the house, provided I’m not streaming video or too concerned about response time).  I’ll have more as I use it out of doors.  I have every confidence that coverage isn’t an issue.  I haven’t had a single dropout since I went with Verizon for my Treo.

Your mileage may vary.  In fact, I’d expect you’ll have a much easier time of it.  As you observed, these things tend to go catastrophically wrong for me.  It’s probably because I’m a computer geek or something.