How to get a U720 EVDO wireless broadband USB modem working with OS X

Photo by Infra-Ken

I’m extremely conservative when it comes to changes to my development machines. As a geek my natural tendency is to install all the whizzy new software and hardware I come across, but that’s a massive time-suck away from actual development, since inevitably there’s driver and compatibility issues I end up debugging. I try to stay firmly on the well-beaten path, so others before me will have stepped on the land-mines.

Unfortunately I had to break my policy yesterday, and I paid for it. I’ve been contemplating getting a wireless EVDO device for my laptop, primarily so I have a backup to Wifi for my product demos. As a last resort I’ve got a canned movie I can show to customers and investors, but the online version is much more effective. The large databases (eg 5GB) I’m dealing with also make it tough to set up a local server on the same machine. I’d also like to stop paying the extortionate airport Wifi fees when I’m travelling.

I did my research, chose EVDOInfo as my vendor, since they have a good reputation for Mac support, a USB devicee from Novatel, the U720, that was widely used, and Sprint since I’m stuck with AT&T on my iPhone and wanted a different carrier for this. The ordering process was painless, I actually did it online through my iPhone whilst waiting to get seated for breakfast. It turned out I’d mis-keyed the expiry date on my credit card, but a very helpful salesman phoned me up and sorted out the mixup. They also preactivated the device for my account which was very handy.

Once the modem arrived, I unpacked the box and looked through the documentation. There wasn’t an obvious quick-start guide, so I inserted the provided CD and looked through the manual. It sounded like I should have the modem connected to a USB port when I ran the installer, so I plugged it into the side of my MacBook Pro. That brought up a prompt mentioning that a new network device had been found, and asking if I wanted to install the drivers? This automatic discovery sounded perfect, so I clicked through the OS’s native installation process (this wasn’t from the CD). That’s when the nightmare began.

After that process, large parts of the OS stopped working. I could no longer open most preference items, it would just hang indefinitely when I did. I also couldn’t run Software Update, or even su from the terminal. My first reaction was to do full backups of everything important on my machine, which ate up an hour or two. Then I booted from DVD and ran a full cycle of disk and permission repairs, which didn’t solve the problems. At that point I cut my losses and did a clean OS install on a different partition, taking about 2 hours including copying over all my backups, running all the software updates and reinstalling applications.

I tried the installation process again, this time running the CD SmartView package from Sprint. This ran successfully, but bringing up the new application and trying to connect failed. Checking in the system console I saw this message:

9/23/08 5:51:27 PM Sprint SmartView[192] SERIOUS WARNING : All 3 Connection Attempts Have Failed
9/23/08 5:51:57 PM [0x0-0x17017].com.roamingclient.cell.mac.roamingclient[283] /Users/hms/Projects/pctel.1.4/Modules/MoreSCF/MoreSCF.c:1640: failed assertion `(err != noErr) || (servicesDict == NULL) || (*serviceOrder == NULL) || (CFDictionaryGetCount(*servicesDict) == CFArrayGetCount(*serviceOrder))'

A lot of Google research later, I finally found a workaround here. Ignore the initial steps for removing and reinstalling the drivers he describes, the important part for me was:

– Go to Network in the Preferences
– Select the Novatel CDMA network device in the left pane
– Click on the Advanced button
– Go to the WWAN tab
– Choose Novatel as the vendor and CDMA as the model
– Click OK, then Apply
– Click on the Connect button

That was enough to give me a wireless broadband connection. I still can’t use the SmartView software which means I can’t see my monthly usage totals, but at least I can get online.

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