Gobi and the definition of ‘agnostic…’

GobiI’ve returned from a spate of travel with several thoughts of international mobility.  Today it’s about GOBI.  According to Qualcomm’s site, “Gobi is the built-in mobile broadband technology that connects your notebook to the internet at 3G speeds.”  So far it sounds good.  According to various articles and reviews, Gobi is carrier agnostic.  This sounds even better.  I’ve long felt the carrier exclusivity we experience in the US keeps our mobile voice and data hardware and services well behind the rest of the planet.  So before heading to Europe, I decided to activate Gobi on my Motion J3400.

In theory Gobi is simple; get a SIM card, install it into your Gobi enabled device, and you are online.  Have multiple Gobi devices?  No problem, you can move the SIM from one to the other as necessary.

In practice, Gobi is just that simple, except the first part.  Activating a carrier agnostic device was a bit exciting, as I should have my choice of providers, networks, data plans.  I started with a bit of research at the Gobi site to determine if there were any recommended carriers.  However, other than touting the excellence and ease of deployment, Gobi’s site essentially referred me back to my device’s manufacturer site for any questions.  Back on the Motion Computing support pages I found little additional information.  Broadening my search to Google didn’t help either.  There’s a lot of questions out there in the ethers about Gobi, but very few answers.  It’s a relatively new technology, so I decided to open a case with Motion’s support and ask the simple question – What providers should I contact to discuss activation my J3400’s carrier agnostic Gobi module?

They came back quickly, and in Henry Ford’s style; You can talk to any carrier you want, as long as it’s AT&T.  This was surprising, I thought we were offered any carrier we want.  Not on the J3400, and many other devices that have Gobi.  Due to some hardware and software limitations, certain Gobi interfaces are GSM only, with no ability to connect to CDMA, or other cellular technologies.  In the United States, GSM means one carrier – AT&T.  I will investigate with HP, Acer, and other net and notebook providers, as Motion was a bit cagey about whether this was entirely Gobi’s limitation or Motion’s.

EDIT: Not minutes after posting I received an e-mail from Motion.  With the release of version 2.3 of their Connection Manager, there is support for CDMA.  It appears the limitation was software based, and Motion has been working hard to correct it.  This is great news.  I will test this with a Verizon SIM..

I sent a question to Gobi, asking if all modules were GSM only, or if certain we able to connect via other mobile technologies, but have note received an answer.

The SIM from AT&T arrived the very next day, along with one of their USB Connect Mercury sticks.  While I had no need on the J3400 for the 3G modem, AT&T can’t sell a data SIM without an EIN.  Gobi modules don’t have their own EIN.  After some conversation with our corporate AT&T representative, he decided to throw the Mercury in free in order the place the order.  He also asked that I tell him how it all works out, because it was the first SIM he had sold for a Gobi installation.  To AT&T’s credit, he had been educated as to Gobi’s existance.

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Using the service was pretty anti-climactic.  The SIM slot in the J3400 is inside the first battery compartment, making it a bit inconvenient if you want to swap the SIM between multiple devices.  (The LE1700 had a SIM slot integrated into the bottom / left bezel, just like an SD card slot.  Since the J3400 is ruggedized an exposed slot isn’t possible, but integrating it behind one of the protective doors that houses the USB and video ports would be more convenient.)  However, SIM in slot, boot machine, run Motion Connection Manager, and click connect.  I was online at speeds that averaged just under one megabit within thirty seconds.  The integration could not have been easier.  AT&T’s coverage in our office is mediocre, and even worse at my home, but I had a seamless connection from the time I turned Gobi on until I shut the tablet down at home.

In stark contrast, I arrived in Paris at Charles De Gaulle airport with a few minutes to spare during this trip.  After getting through customs, I went to one of the cellular kiosks that are so prevalent throughout Europe and Asia, and asked about SIM cards with a data plan.  They were plentiful.  For 20 to 25 Euros I could purchased SIM cards on most any European carrier, (Vodafone had the most options), with data plans regulated by total online time or bytes transferred.  I bought two of them, and both worked perfectly with the Gobi module in the J3400.  I had to change the network type in the connection manager, which resets the module and takes about two minutes.  Once complete, each SIM took me online without issue.  In all cases I could swap the SIM between the J3400 and the Mercury 3G stick plugged into my netbook without issue.

Being able to purchase these data SIMs in country is important.  AT&T’s international data plan, at least when the primary use is in the United States, is very expensive (between $100 and $200 per month extra) and limited 100 or 200 megabytes of data per month outside the US.  It’s not unusual for traveling professionals to carry unlocked phones and a half dozen SIM cards for voice on various continents; it looks like Gobi gives us the ability to do the same for mobile connectivity.

Comments

  1. Stuart says

    I’m glad you’ve “seen the light” about unlocked devices and the wonders of being able to swap sims. It is really lost on most americans but I’m surprised that the people you all talked to didn’t really understand what GOBI is. GOBI is NOT restricted to AT&T in america. It is actually something more which should let you have access to Verizon and SPRINT also while in the USA as well as any GSM carrier in the world.

    GOBI has two modems inside it, GSM and CDMA. It is firmware driven so that you select GSM (AT&T, Tmobile in the usa) or CDMA (Verizon or Sprint). You can toggle back and forth as you need it. That feature is most useful for businesses because they can buy a few data plans and then use whatever plan is best at their whatever location they are at.

    I think GOBI was created so that people with CMDA carriers could also have access to the ability to have a carrier agnostic internal modem similar to what those with GSM unlocked devices have always had.

    What I don’t like about GOBI is that it for now it doesn’t play nice with LINUX. I have one in my ACER netbook and I would have preferred a regular GSM modem instead because it seems to only work in Windows.

  2. aamp says

    I was going to ask what the big deal was about GOBI because you could do everything mentioned in your article using any old unlocked 3g stick.

    The main thing about Gobi I guess is that it’s got both GSM and CDMA. Most unlocked 3g sticks (even quad band) will only work on GSM. That’s fine for us in Europe but not great if anyone needs good coverage in the US.

  3. Chris Lucksted says

    Stuart – As I said in my edit, it looks like the issue with the Motion J3400 was one of software. Almost immediately after posting this I received a comment from someone at Motion pointing me to the latest version of their connection manager, which appears to support CDMA (specifically Verizon right now). I’ll be testing with that!

    As for carrier exclusivity vs. agnostic, one drives handset technology faster and one drives network features. Right now, the US has picked exclusivity, and it’s not pushing the carriers to enhance their networks.

  4. Xavier says

    Good to hear you had a (mostly) smooth experience with GOBI. I haven’t had an opportunity to use it yet, but plan to when I go to Asia in a couple months. The ability to walk up to a wireless shop and not have to worry about compatibility will be a big relief.

  5. Stuart says

    Verizon doesn’t use SIM cards. When the Gobi modem is being used with Sprint or Verizon then no SIM card is required. When it is used with GSM carrier (AT&T and overseas) then a SIM card is required.

  6. Travis says

    In the 5th paragraph Chris said: EDIT: Not minutes after posting I received an e-mail from Motion. With the release of version 2.3 of their Connection Manager, there is support for CDMA. It appears the limitation was software based, and Motion has been working hard to correct it. This is great news. I will test this with a Verizon SIM..

    I know Verizon doesn’t use SIM cards but obviously Chris doesn’t.

  7. Chris Lucksted says

    At least two Verizon phones, the Storm and the Blackberry 8830 use SIMs for their World Phone features. Whether said SIM would function for Gobi or not I don’t know. I had one of my team contact Verizon support yesterday to discuss, but couldn’t find anyone who knew what Gobi was.

    I’m curious about using Verizon service both in the US and in Europe and Asia, and if by using the SIM from my phones I can leverage the unlimited international data plan on both phones when on other continents. The question is a bit academic, as I use bluetooth tethering when I need connectivity, which does fit within the international data plan.

  8. Bristolview says

    AT&T has sold lots of SIMS for this purpose, but they don’t know about most of them. They mistakenly think that the SIMS are being used in their USB or other radios. I’ve been doing what you said with my Lenovo x61 (GSM only, not Gobi) for quite awhile while traveling abroad. Now, with a Gobi module, I’ve been doing the same thing. I’m not concerned with CDMA, as my US data is AT&T (and I have had fantastic service all over the US, despite hearing that others have not), and Europe doesn’t have the CDMA of Verizon and such. It’s all GSM. So my older Lenovo radio is just fine, and my newer Gobi is just fine. Either allows me to jump between GSM carriers easily. In the US, that’s primarily AT&T and that’s fine. In Europe, you can often see multiple carriers at any one time. The choices abound, and it’s great.

    Chris: The SIM in the Verizon phones is for the GSM personality only, not for the CDMA personality. The Verizon world phones essentially have dual capability, able to operate on the home CDMA or the GSM abroad. The SIM part is the same as any other GSM based phone. Without it, the CDMA can still work, but the GSM will not. If you have activated the Verizon International Dataplan on the world phones you mention, they will activate the SIM to connect to carriers they have contracts with when abroad (not all, but many). Your phone will then be able to connect to those carriers when you travel (the CDMA portion will be dormant). You can then use your phone to access your international data. Your question as to whether the SIM can function in another GSM radio such as another phone or Gobi radio, the answer is Yes. It will. It is just a SIM, not unlike any other. My experience with Verizon on international, is that they screwed up my plans when international each and every time, often telling me they don’t work in Europe. Yes, some people knew about the world phones, others didn’t. EACH trip I took, the phone didn’t work upon arrival, and took multiple phone calls to get straightened out. This was repeated on each trip. I got tired of it and jumped to AT&T, and I’ve had outstanding service ever since. I know, I keep hearing people with AT&T troubles, but thankfully, I’m not one of them. My business partner just got a Verizon world phone with SIM. We had meetings in Europe last month, and he confirmed with Verizon that his international SIM was activated and he was told on 3 different calls, that he ‘was all set’. When we arrived, my phone worked like it always does, but his was… “No Service”. I laughed, as that was EXACTLY my experience. They do have some people who understand it, but obviously many who don’t, all depends on who you get when you call.

  9. Chris Lucksted says

    Brisolview – I can’t agree more on Verizon and overseas. When first purchased I had no problems overseas with my Storm. However, last month when I landed in Paris the phone would only work in SOS mode. My folks back here in the states made several calls, and finally found out something had happened to the association between my SIM and phone… Half a day later I could make phone calls again.

    We shall see on the next trip… International connectivity can be a challenge, but I believe Gobi has taken a step toward simplifying things. We’ll see next week how Gobi over CDMA on Verizon works…

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