Rants, Raves, Reviews


Sierra Wireless 595U USB EVDO modem - A Review

By Gary R, in , posted: 10-Jul-2007 23:12

Today I received the new Sierra Wireless 595U USB modem which I happened to win when I attended the last meeting of the Wireless and Broadband Forum. In my previous life (working at Telecom) I was always involved in the testing process so I had access to the cool toys before they were released. This is the first time that I actually get to review an EVDO product outside of Telecom as someone who is more independent. I have a long history with Sierra Wireless gear and I have always respected their engineering and product design. So, thanks to the WBF and Telecom for giving me a new toy.

I have decided to write the review in two parts. This, the first part, is about the USB modem hardware. Tomorrow (for reasons that will become apparent) I plan to butcher the USB modem and extract the component I am more interested in. Butchering the modem will render it inoperable as a USB device.

The Sierra Wireless 595U is the long awaited EVDO Revision A modem from Telecom. Vodafone have had their Vodem in the market for quite some time but this is the first, serious USB offering from Telecom.

In the box

In the box is a small, Li-Polymer battery (380mAh) that provides a boost when the USB port can not provide enough power, a docking station which can be left connected to a desk top PC, the quick start guide, a CD with the drivers and instructions and of course the USB modem.

sierra1

The first thing to do is to install the battery. The black front panel on the modem slides off to reveal the battery compartment and a label which ESN number the FCC ID and the part number. The battery simply clips in and then the battery cover is clipped back on.

The USB Modem

The 595U itself is quite small but probably slight larger than a Vodem. The USB connector is built directly into the 595U and locks in place by way of a hinge. This keeps the USB connector out of the way when not in use. On the front are two small LED's, one for power and the other for data. On the left is a user accessible external antenna socket which is a very worth while feature if Telecom actually sell a matching antenna.

sierra2

I like the built-in USB connector because it means that you don't have to carry a separate USB cable. It also means you do not need to Velcro the 595U to your laptop lid! When the 595U is plugged in it sits in an upright position which is great for the RF performance as the antenna is facing outwards and upright as an antenna should.

Overall the build feels good, the squeeze test doesn't reveal any plastic creaks or give in the case. My only concern is the battery cover which I think would break quite easily if left to jiggle around a laptop bag. The battery cover just does not feel that strong.

The second part to the hardware combination is the desk cradle which (I suppose) is designed to 'dock' the 595U in a PC rather than a laptop.

sierra3

Sure, it is convenient but personally it is not something I would ever use. I think I would simply prefer an extension cable (with a USB socket). The cradle looks good but it is not always that simple to remove the 595U. Pull it forwards and the 595U catches on the plastic join of the cradle. Depending on how you attack it, it can require some force to remove the 595U. Removing it nearest the base seems to work the best as the 595U pivots on the USB connector. I can definitely see someone bending the USB connector by applying too much force in the wrong place.

The Quick Start Guide

The quick start guide is very simple with only 7 steps to follow. All you need to do is install the software on the CD and then plug in the 595U. Very easy.

Step 7 in the guide is unnecessary and will probably confuse some people. It states:

'If your Mobile Broadband rev a USB modem is not activated, the Activation Wizard may start automatically. If it doesn't, go into Watcher and select Tools > Activation Wizard.

Select the activation method and follow the instructions on the screen'

The Activation Wizard takes you to a screen that asks for the activation code or SPC code. This system is designed for carriers overseas and is not how it is done in NZ. Here, the modem is already NAM'ed (it has an 027 number) so the activation is performed by a Telecom dealer. Telecom should consider removing this instruction.

If you do happen to know the SPC code, all the Activation Wizard does is display a box where the MDN (027 number) and MIN (Mobile Identification Number) can be entered. This is not necessary for NZ.

The modem supports Windows Vista, XP and 2000. There is small green label on the box and in the guide which covers the mention of Mac OS X support. I assume the Mac drivers are not ready.

Starting Up the 595U

Plugging in the 595U for the first time install all the ports and drivers. Once installed my laptop now has 3 new serial COM ports, a network adapter and a modem.

The install program sets up Watcher (the modem software) which auto starts when the 595U is plugged in. Anyone who has used an AirCard 580 or 595 will find Watcher to be totally familiar.

watcher

The standard 'Telecom 3G' connection is the default and the display shows RevA coverage (as 'EVDOA') when available. If there is no RevA coverage it defaults to EVDO or 1x. Signal strength and connection status are also shown.

From the tools menu you can access the SMS composer/reader, call log, connection manager and options. Under Options there is access to the network menu. My suggestion is to set the 595U to 'EVDO Only' when in EVDO coverage. This way the 595U never checks for a 1xRTT network. I believe that continually 'looking for' a 1x network can affect performance.

Performance

When the modem is plugged in the auto launch of Watcher and the detection of the modem takes about 20 seconds. Connecting takes about 5 seconds so it is quite quick from a start up perspective.

There has been quite a lot written on the performance of the Telecom EVDO network. I am not going to spend too much time on this because a single-snap shot of speed is exactly that, a 'snap-shot'. It is not a relative measure of an overall network performance. So here is my snap-shot, it is 10:39pm and I am in good coverage (-60dBm).



Overall

As a device I like it but I probably wouldn't use the docking cradle. I would rather have the 595U than either an Express card or a PC Card. USB devices are so much more flexible. I like the fact that it plugs directly into my laptop and that it sits vertical which improves coverage. The 595U is very easy to install and the Watcher software is simple to use. I have been using the 595U all evening and the network performance has been very good. So far the 595U has been reliable and stable.

Pros:
- Built-in boost battery
- External Antenna connection
- Easy to setup
- Plugs directly into a USB port
- The locking USB connector
- Supports RevA
- Solid build

Cons:
- Docking cradle
- Battery cover




Other related posts:
Acer Aspire One Netbook Teardown
Vodafone NZ Launches 3G Acer Aspire Netbook
Sprint USB multi 'G' modem








Comment by robscovell, on 11-Jul-2007 12:06

I got to use one of these briefly yesterday. It's a very nice device!


Comment by chiefie, on 4-Oct-2007 16:41

Hey Gary, can the USB plug swing all the way down so the plug is facing downward instead of perpendicular to the unit?


Author's note by Jama, on 8-Oct-2007 09:17

Yes Chiefie it can


Comment by Barbara, on 16-Oct-2007 22:46

HI Gary,



What do I need to do to get the Sierra Wireless 595U to work for my Mac. I know it can be done, despite telecom saying it can't as my colleague up north has got it. But no-one from telecom seems to remember exactly how it was done. Any suggestions?


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Gary R
Wellington
New Zealand


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