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HOW TO: Pimp your Ride or how to make your car truly wireless
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 22.08.05 - 20:48:29 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 25269x
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Ok, there is nothing more boring than sitting in the car while in a traffic jam without a high-speed connection, that's wasted time. Sure you can have your Notebook with a 3G/UMTS PC-card with you or (if you are lucky) your HTC Universal, also with inbuilt 3G or - if you are not that lucky (but lucky enough) - you have your GPRS connected Pocket PC with you but why not making the whole vehicle truly wireless?
I did - with O2's Surf@home box I'm calling from now "Surf@Autobahn". I've previewed O2's Surf@home a while back; it's basically a W-LAN access point with an interface to O2's UMTS network instead an interface to a DSL-modem which means, you can use your W-LAN equipped devices (Pocket PCs, Notebooks, Smartphones) to surf with UMTS speed, even if these devices aren't UMTS enabled and you don't need a dial-up connection at home anymore (for sure it cannot replace a DSL connection).

So listen "West Cost Customs", here comes my "UMTS-pimped" Audi A4! ;-)

All I had to find was a nice place for my "Surf@Autobahn" box and the corner in rear trunk was just perfect since I also had a spare power connector nearby:

The original Surf@home box (before it became the Surf@Autobahn box) is using a 5V DC, 2.8A input so it wasn't a big deal to reduce the 12V with some equipment from the electronic shop to 5V only. The box itself was fixed with some double faced adhesive tape on the back only.

That's it - ready is your very own, rolling hotspot! :-) Connected to the UMTS network with up to 384 kbps, even if the UMTS connection in my underground garage is way slower but at least I still have connection:

I faced some minor problems which I either worked around yet or I have to workaround soon, with some tweaks:

  • Since O2 is using a kind of geo-lock for all their Surf@home USIMs, I had to replaced the standard Surf@home USIM with a Surf@Autobahn USIM (which is basically my O2 USIM card) which is better anyway since I have a volume plan with my standard USIM while - right now - Surf@home is available with a time-based plan only. Anyway, now I can use my Surf@Autobahn box all over Germany.
  • There is no user interface available to change between the bands - unfortunately we don't have a nation-wide UMTS coverage yet but only the metropolitan areas are UMTS covered. So yes, within Munich the Surf@Autobahn box is working well, but as soon as I'm too far away, it loses the UMTS coverage/signal and the box isn't doing an automatic handover into the GPRS network.
  • The current Surf@home web-based user interface isn't designed to work with Pocket PCs since it uses some Java Scripts and pop-up windows 8O which isn't working with Pocket PCs. So either you press the connection button on the box or you have to tweak a little bit through the menu. Not nice and also a real problem to use Surf@home at home on the couch. I hope O2 will fix it sooner or later.

But beside the problems above, the box is working well and provides me high-speed in-car connectivity and even better - I can take my hotspot with me, as long as I find a parking lot near the bar, restaurant or wherever I go. I got a W-LAN connection up to around 30 meters from my car only, no wonder with all the steel around the box which also makes the UMTS connection a little bit weaker. So the next investment might be an external UMTS antenna (even if it is hard to get UMTS car antennas today) as well as a external W-LAN antenna plus booster. ;-)

While others install GPS devices into their cars, I prefer to have a UMTS enabled car - makes more sense for me. ;-)

Cheers ~ Arne

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