Mobile Tech

Put That Old GSM Dongle Back to Work

If you’ve been accumulating redundant, carrier-locked communications hardware like phones and data cards and have been stuffing them all into a drawer likely never to be used again, you can repurpose some of it and realize some cost savings.

Modem data cards, sometimes called “dongles” or “data sticks,” are well suited to this repurposing because many of them sold are compliant with the current HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) standard and consequently provide broadband speeds.

HSPA+ is the current “3G” standard (used in non-CDMA networks like AT&T and T-Mobile, not Sprint and Verizon) until LTE (Long Term Evolution) rolls out and takes over.

The problem with these redundant sticks isn’t that the technology is out of date — it’s that they are SIM-locked to the carrier. This locking is for carrier subsidy recouping reasons.

If you’ve changed carriers and been sold a new stick, or if you’ve fulfilled your existing contract obligations, you can unlock the redundant GSM stick, insert a pay-as-you-go SIM card, and pass the stick on to a family member or use it in a secondary laptop, and so on.

Also, purchasing local SIM cards when traveling overseas will reduce costs — you can use multiple SIM cards — depending on the deal or country — using one stick.

You can’t take advantage of unlocking with a Sprint or Verizon CDMA stick using EVDO technology because they don’t use SIM cards.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about unlocking GSM phones. This week I’ll tell you about a simple way to unlock a laptop data stick.

Step 1

Identify the technology used by the GSM data stick by reading the small print adjacent to the model number. It will often indicate the technology — for example, HSPA.

Perform a Web-based search using the stick manufacturer and model number if necessary.

Ignore technologies like GPRS and EDGE. Although they are technically 3G specifications, they won’t take advantage of the highest speeds available. Anything “HS” is good.

Step 2

Browse to a data stick unlocker website. I’ve been using DC-unlocker, which provides a software download to perform the unlock.

Verify that your model of the stick is supported by clicking on the “Supported Models” tab on the website.

Step 3

Download the data stick unlocker software program to your PC. DC-unlocker provides it for free at the website “Download” tab.

Run the software program on the PC, which will create a desktop icon. Launch the unlocker software.

Tip: The software will allow you to detect the stick and verify compatibility before buying credits for the actual unlock.

Step 4

Insert the data stick into the PC’s USB port and wait for the data stick’s drivers to be automatically installed. There will be an on-screen message that provides a progress report.

Choose the stick manufacturer, for example, “Huawei modems,” from the “Select manufacturer” drop-down, and choose “Auto Detect” from the “Select Model” drop-down.

Click on the magnifying glass icon, and the stick will be detected. The “SIM Lock Status” will tell you whether the stick is locked or not. If the status is “Unlocked,” you can go ahead and use any SIM card. Your job is complete.

If its status is “Locked,” proceed to the next step.

Tip: If the stick isn’t detected, it can’t be unlocked using these steps.

Step 5

Open an account and buy single-user credits by clicking on the “Buy credits” button, which will take you to a Web page.

The Web page will tell you how many credits you will need depending on the stick. The cost of credits is often between US$10 and US$15.

Step 6

Log in to the account you set up in the previous step by clicking on the “Server” tab. Then click on the “Unlocking” tab and select “Unlock.”

The unlock routine will commence. Allow it to complete and check for a message that indicates it’s safe to remove the stick from the USB port.

Step 7

Replace the SIM card with one of your choice. The best value data pay-as-you-go SIMcards can be obtained from T-Mobile in the U.S. Overseas, pick up data-specific SIMcards at branded town center phone shops. Bring your passport.

Tip: Darren, from the phone unlocking website Mobile Unlocked, reminded Technewsworld that using any software to alter a device voids the warranty, so be sure you’re comfortable with that.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

1 Comment

  • Got a older one from Verizon but I guess I AM out of luck. But seriously why even bother? They practically give them away when you add a plan and some don’t support 4G which is why I upgraded mine.

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