Dongle Wars – Broadband on an eeePC

They said it couldn’t be done – get wireless broadband via a dongle on my netbook running Linux.


Go to any high street retailer of mobile broadband services such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Three and Virgin and ask if their gadget works on Linux.

“Sorry”, they’ll say, “it only works on Windows or Mac”.

They are wrong. It was like being told in 1985 that you couldn’t access the embryonic internet with one of those new fangled Macintoshes. They said Macs didn’t have the F keys that you needed at that time for the log-on process. So I just telnetted around a few archives until I found a software F-key emulator, FTP’d it across and used it to log onto their system and send them emails complaining that I could access it on a Mac when they promised me I couldn’t.

Nowadays I have one of the early netbooks, a very cute, very tiny, Asus eee PC. In the days before Blackberries and iPhones, a netbook with a cheap, pre-paid wireless broadband “dongle” (a thumb-sized, plug-in broadband modem that looks like a fat USB memory stick) was an ideal solution for occasional use. I still use it when travelling. No bigger than a slim paper-back book, it is still very convenient and prepaid wireless broadband is much cheaper than the internet fees in hotels and the like.

However, the Linux operating system is Open Source software, and that is anathema to Microsoft and Apple who own the proprietary Windows and Mac operating systems. And it seems as if the retailers are either colluding with them or have been competely conned by their propaganda.

There is nothing intrinsically ‘wrong’ with any of these systems, they are all fine for a great range of business and personal computing activities. But to be told in 2010 that my Linux netbook could not use wireless broadband was bizarre.

None of the retailers nor their help desks could even begin to get their heads around using their products on Linux. Their “best” advice was to change the operating system to Windows XP. Yeah, right!

Many simply didn’t want to know – for them it was simply a case of “It can’t be done”. That was the ‘deja vu’ moment of being told that you couldn’t access the internet on the early Macs.

But it can be done. I have posted a fairly detailed explanation of the relatively straight-forward process on EEE user forums. If you are interested, this link will take you to a copy of those notes.

This entry was posted in Ian's Posts. Bookmark the permalink.