3G mobile WiFi on the cheap – TP-Link M5350 and GiffGaff

I have two small but solvable problems:

  1. My Nexus 4 phone battery really takes a hammering when transferring data over the cellular network, especially when in personal hotspot mode.
  2. My Nexus 10 tablet is WiFi only.

One way to solve these problems is using a personal WiFi hotspot device that can handle all of the cellular data connection while presenting a WiFi connection to all of my devices, even on the move.

I looked at the various “MiFi” options that are out there on networks such as Three. Pay as you go options exist but they all require either a hefty up-front purchase cost. Contract options tie you in to paying for data (and your device) over a long period of time – 1 or 2 years. I thought that there must be a third option – a do-it-yourself option!

TP-Link M5350 3G Wifi Modem

So I bought the TP-Link M5350 3G Wi-Fi modem from Amazon (£39.99 delivered at the time of writing). This is one of the cheapest devices in its class that includes a little display so that you can see what is going on. It takes a regular mobile phone SIM and it’s one and only job is to act as a cellular modem, WiFi access point and router, all in one miniature package. Battery life is pretty decent at 6-7 hours of continuous use and so far, it’s worked very well for me.

To provide the data, I looked around and concluded that the 500MB “Gigabag” should be sufficient for my monthly needs. At £5 per month for 500MB, GiffGaff fitted the bill perfectly, so I ordered myself a free SIM. Using GiffGaff gives me network diversity from my phone, so there’s a chance of at least one or the other having a signal, and it also gives the flexibility to decide month-by-month whether I want no data, 500MB (£5), 1GB (£7.50) or 3GB (£12.50).

GiffGaff uses the O2 network and one peculiarity of the SIMs they provide is that they come pre-programmed with the O2 network’s 3G APNs (Access Point Name) rather than their own. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t actually work when using GiffGaff, so you have to manually configure your device to use GiffGaff’s APN. Thankfully this is fairly simple to do.

  • Start up the 3G WiFi modem and connect your computer/phone to its wireless
  • Start a browser and go to http://192.168.0.1/
  • Enter the default password of “admin” and log in to the control panel.
  • Click “Advanced” and then choose “Dialup”, then choose “Profile management”.
  • Click the “Create” button at the bottom to start a new APN profile
  • Set the profile name to whatever you want
  • Set the APN name to “giffgaff.com”
  • Set the username to “giffgaff”
  • Leave everything else as it is (including a blank password) and save the profile.
  • Go back to the “Dialup” screen and select your new profile from the profile list.

It might take a minute or two, but you should find that the modem will now connect to the internet over 3G and you should be able to browse the web.

Since the 3G Wifi modem supports up to 10 devices being connected via wifi, this is useful in many situations. This has gotten my wife and I connected while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and is useful on the train to work to let me surf the net on my tablet rather than wasting my phone’s precious battery.

Total cost for a year is roughly £40 + (12 x £5) = £100. I think 28p a day for the first year is pretty good, and assuming everything carries on working and GiffGaff doesn’t change its packages, it will only cost £60 (16.5p/day) for a full second year.

(Disclosure: If you’re kind enough to use the links in the article, I will get some small commissions from Amazon and GiffGaff for the referrals. I really would appreciate you using those links as it helps to pay for the server hosting this blog!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *