The Huawei E153 modem on Linux

Getting the popular Huawei E153 modem working on Linux is easy.

The Huawei E153 is a 3.5G HSDPA USB modem. Where I live, it is the most common USB modem offered for sale by mobile operators and third parties. Being ubiquitous, I obtained a used one for free and quickly got it working on my Linux boxes.

GATHERING INFORMATION
On Linux, lsusb reports the modem as “ID 12d1:14ac Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.”.

I took it and a laptop running Windows to my mobile operator’s service center. Where I live, service center staff only know Windows and are liable to dissuade you from even attempting to use their hardware or network with Linux. I had the staff confirm that the modem works. In my case, the SIM card in the modem had expired: I needed to buy a new one, put some airtime in it, and buy a one day prepaid data plan to test the modem under Windows. Having the support staff confirm this saved me a lot of time.

When inserted into a computer running Windows, a proprietary control application by Huawei will prompt to install itself if not already installed. It is claimed on the web that many mobile operators replace Huawei’s control application with their own. I suspect, however, that these users are seeing what I see: Huawei’s control program, rebranded by the mobile operator.

In any case, once out of the service center, open the control program and note the following information. Here’s what I found and where I found it:

  • Tools – Diagnostics – Network Status – Network Name: Claro HND
  • Tools – Diagnostics – Network Settings – APN: web.megatel.hn
  • Tools – Options – Profile Management – Dial-Up – APN: Static; web.megatel.hn
  • Tools – Options – Profile Management – Dial-Up – Authentication – User name: webmegatel
  • Tools – Options – Profile Management – Dial-Up – Authentication – Password: webmegatel (hidden behind asterisks; a Claro Honduras representative confirmed the password)

Aside from the control application for Windows, the modem’s memory also has a directory named Linux which contains a README and binary blobs. Information on the web suggests that one of these blobs is the Linux version of the control application. While I appreciate that Huawei accommodates Linux, I prefer the open source kernel driver built in to Linux and so have not used or examine these files.

CONFIGURATION
Like everything in Linux, there are multiple paths to success. The following is what works for me. To begin, you’ll need:

  • usb_modeswitch and usb_modeswitch-data installed.
  • NetworkManager installed and set to run at startup as root. Not all distributions run it at startup by default.

Insert the modem and wait for the system to recognize the modem. On my boxes, this takes about ten seconds and is indicated by the status light changing from blinking green to blinking blue. If usb_modeswitch is doing its job, the modem will not appear as a USB mass storage device.

Right click on the NetworkManager icon. A setup wizard is available, but I don’t do no stinkin’ wizards. Instead I select Edit Connections, open the Mobile Broadband tab, click on Add, and enter the following nondefault settings:

  • Connection name: Your mobile operator’s name, or as desired.
  • Mobile Broadband – Basic – Username and password: As observed in Windows. In my case, both are “webmegatel”.
  • Mobile Broadband – Advanced – APN: As observed in Windows. In my case, “web.megatel.hn”.

Save and close.

USING IT
You’ll need:

  • An activated data plan with your mobile operator
  • The modem inserted and recognized as described above

Left click on the NetworkManager menu. You should see the new connection in the “Available” section. Select it and enjoy your connection.

NOTES
I understand from the web that this and many USB modems are sold SIM locked. Because I use the same mobile operator that originally sold the modem, I had no need to confirm or deal with that.

The modem has a Micro SD slot, but it works fine without a memory card. Indeed, I’m unsure what a memory card brings to the table here.

The modem has a multicolored status light:

  • blinking green: initial startup
  • green: connected; strong signal
  • blue: connected; weak signal
  • blinking blue: not connected or no signal

A Claro Honduras service representative told me that a common support issue is that the modem had been working, but attempts to connect now hang with no diagnostic messages. Her solution is to enter the modem control program under Windows and create a new profile; she assured me that this “always works”.

Mageia 2 x86_64
Attempting to configure the modem using the Mageia Control Center failed. Perhaps NetworkManager would have worked, but I didn’t try that.

openSUSE 12.3 64 bit
NetworkManager is installed by default but is enabled by default only on laptop computers. It is easily enabled on other devices, however.

Ubuntu 12.10 amd64
In Ubuntu, NetworkManager is called network-manager.

REFERENCES
Manual pages for usb_modeswitch, NetworkManager
Fedora’s documentation for NetworkManager

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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