Mobile Broadband - Hot and Bothered

I recently took delivery of a T-Mobile Web’n Walk Stick III.  This useful gadget looks a bit like a USB memory stick, albeit one a little on the large side, and gives me high speed Internet access via T-Mobile’s 3G network in the UK.  A little probing reveals that under the covers it’s actually a Huawei E170 USB Stick. I’d not heard of Huawei before, but on investigation it looks as though they pretty much have the market cornered for 3g modems.

I’ve had to sign a 24 month contract, but for £15/month I get 3Gb of data, and the device for free.  They promise that they won’t charge me if I go over my 3Gb, but apparently, if I do it too often or excessively, then they’ll talk to me about adjusting my tariff.  This is by far the most reasonable approach I’ve heard of to this problem.  Oh, and they’ve included unlimited access to their WiFi hotspots, which is a great bonus!

There was a bit of faffing to get the E170 to work on OS X, but I found a very useful blog posting at phototropic.co.uk which helped a lot.

In many ways, the service is very good - it’s nothing like as fast as they say, of course, but it’s at least as good as I expected.  A speed test was saying something around 450kb/s download speed, and about 300kb/s upload with a good 3G signal present.  It certainly does feel like broadband, and it’s wonderfully liberating to be able to be online almost anywhere.

All seemed to be going well until I started to notice some odd behaviour on my Macbook Pro while using the modem.  The fans were coming on and the computer was running very hot.  Some investigation revealed that the system log server, syslogd, was consuming vast amounts of CPU.  To cut a long story short, it turns out that the device drivers are outputting a very large amount of debug information. I conducted a 3 minute test, during which I ran a broadband speed tester application, and found that the main system log file grew by about 0.5Mb in that time.

A quick look in the log file revealed that 30-40 messages per second are being logged while data is being transferred.  Interestingly, it also revealed what I believe to be the name of the culprit programmer at Huawei.



Unfortunately, this is enough to stop the device from being long-term usable on my Macbook Pro.  It drains the battery, and rapidly consumes the limited amount of free disk space.

I talked to a really nice man at T-Mobile, who said he would enquire about the possibility of an update for the device.  I have another few days during which I can choose to cancel the contract and send the device back.  I guess I’ll be regretfully doing that unless it emerges that Huawei and T-Mobile are going to fix the problem.

It’s a shame, because I really like the freedom that this service seemed to be about to give me.

Update: 22nd October. The mad syslogd CPU consumption seems to have been a fluke.  There are still way too many syslog messages, but the fans are quieter seem to be ok now.  I’m going to keep it.