I'd be lost during the Hand Luggage Only project without 3G broadband, but life would still go much more smoothly if the people writing the driver software actually had a clue how to write a decent product.
The budget for Hand Luggage Only would look pretty ugly if I was paying the typical $20 a day for in-room hotel broadband. As such, 3G broadband has always been a crucial element of the equation.
For the most part, I've been using the Vodafone $39.95 a month 5GB postpaid service, simply because I've already got that account because of its Eee PC friendliness. At a late stage, 3 agreed to lend me its latest high-speed USB device, which had the added advantage of roaming onto NextG in isolated areas, albeit at a cost. And Optus has now decided it doesn't want to miss out and is going to try and get a test modem to me on the road. (USB modems are so small that I'm not worried about the luggage implications.)
All of this means that I'm unlikely to go without connectivity, even though there are plenty of public options around as well (I'm writing this from the National Library in Canberra which has an excellent free Wi-Fi service). However, it also means I'm going to be developing frown lines at a rapid rate, because without exception the supplied software for using 3G modems is bug-ridden and replete with unhelpful error messages.
Let's check out a few choice examples from my recent experience. This doesn't include the occasions when the software thinks it's connected but actually isn't, or decides to reinstall the drivers for no good reason. Nonetheless, it's a demonstration that the software developers still have a long way to go to produce a basic, functional product.
I've encountered it several times, but I'm still not sure what this 3 error message is actually trying to say. In practice, it means "this software can't cope when your machine wakes up from sleep mode" or "roaming really is as dumb an idea as you might think, so we're not going to let it happen".
A basic requirement of any 3G broadband software package is to connect you to your service. This is difficult if, like Telstra's, it regularly claims your SIM is disconnected when it isn't.
Getting rid of the offending software can also be painful. Telstra threw this message at me while I was logged in with full administrator access.
Vodafone's software is particularly good at failing to detect a connected device. It isn't particularly good at telling you how to deal with the problem.
I got this error message this morning and panicked. Surely I haven't used 5GB in less than 10 days? Then I looked more closely and realised that the software defaults to a 500MB limit unless you tell it otherwise. That's fair enough — there's quite probably no way for the software to tell from the SIM what plan you're on — but it should be presented as an option to customise the first time you install it.
Windows 7 includes a whole new architecture for 3G broadband, and if the telcos adopt it, this pains may pass. But as I've pointed out before, they probably won't bother. Life on the road is rarely easy.
Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.