Beginners guide: How to install a mobile broadband dongle

Got a mobile broadband dongle but not sure what to do next? Here we go right back to basics to give a hand to any of you just starting out with mobile broadband. Step by step, we're going to look at how to install your shiny new mobile broadband dongle!

In the box

In the box you should find...

  • A dongle (otherwise you're a bit stuck)
  • Instruction manual (helpfulness may vary)
  • USB extension cable
  • SIM card (should be in its own little envelope)

If you're missing anything, particularly the dongle or SIM, then it's time to shout at your provider. A software disc won't be included as - on newer dongles anyway - the drivers are all stored on the dongle itself.

Once it's all unpacked you'll need to pop the cover off the dongle and slide in your SIM card, just like a mobile phone.

For the following installation guides I'm using a Huawei E1750 provided by 3 Mobile and Windows XP SP3. Your steps may differ slightly, though as most are now Huawei models any recently purchased dongle should be about the same.

Installation

Step 1

Plug in the dongle. All you need is a spare USB port. If you've not got one then you'll either have to use a USB hub (make sure it's powered) or unplug something else. The extension cable included with your dongle is handy as it means you don't have to worry about the dongle not fitting in next to another device, and you can easily run it down to the back of a desktop tower. It's also useful for boosting the signal.

Step 2

Wait a few moments and Windows should detect the dongle and start popping up its usual “Found New Hardware” messages. If Windows shows its standard dialog asking you to install drivers, just click Cancel.

Step 3

Your dongle should autorun its installation software, if not, and assuming Windows has successfully detected the dongle, you'll need to run it manually, so open up My Computer (or Computer if you're on Vista and Win 7) and open the dongle, which will be listed as a drive.

There will be a few files in there, probably including some kind of setup.exe and an autorun.exe file. Either of these will start the process.

You may have separate installers for 64-bit Windows, so make sure you run the right one for your version.

Step 4

You'll now see a standard step by step installer screen. Just keep clicking Next until it starts copying files and wait for the process to complete.

Along the way you can choose where to install the software, but unless you need it placed on a specific hard disk just leave it on the default settings.

Step 5

That's it. Run the software package installed by the previous steps and you can connect and begin browsing.

Step 6

Okay, that might not quite be it. You may have a software update to install. If a window pops up that looks like the one pictured here then it's a good idea to install the update as soon as you can to ensure you're getting the best service possible.

Just watch out for the download size of the update. It won't be massive enough to put a serious dent in your data allowance, but it could take a while if you're not on a 3G connection.

If you don't want to wait try grabbing it from your provider's web site with a home broadband connection. The provider should have the latest updates available there, usually under the help and support section.

Troubleshooting

Currently supported versions of Windows are Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 so if you're still running Windows 95 it's time to start thinking about an upgrade. Make sure you have the latest updates installed, too, particularly if you're using Windows 2000 or XP as earlier un-patched editions may have problems with some USB devices.

As with any USB gizmo, don't yank your dongle out without first disconnecting it safely. In your system tray (little icons at the bottom right corner of the desktop) click the one that says 'Safely Remove Hardware', stop the dongle from running and wait for Windows to tell you that it's safe to disconnect.

If you've connected your dongle to a USB hub then it will need to be a powered hub. Dongles need more power than other USB devices, if yours is connected to a basic hub that's not got its own mains power and you're having issues, that's likely to be the culprit. If you don't want to leave the dongle hanging out the back of your PC then place it on your desk and connect with a USB extension cord.

If something happens during a software update – power cut, system crash, cat jumps on the keyboard etc – then there's a good chance your dongle will refuse to work afterwards. Unplug the dongle, go into Control Panel > Programs and Features (Add/Remove Programs on Windows XP) and uninstall the software, then start the installation from the top.

Some Windows Vista and 7 users have reported problems with their dongle not working when plugged back in after being properly disconnected. If this happens you can restart the PC, which should solve it but quickly gets annoying, or try going into Devices and Printers from Control Panel, right-clicking your dongle and choosing the Dial or Autostart option to connect again.