chromebook and att wifi – part 2

Two years ago, I set up my mother with an AT&T 4G wifi hotspot. Overall, she is happy with it. The hardware is starting to get less than optimal. It doesn’t keep a charge as long. I think a wire needs replacing. It shut down randomly twice. Since it is two years old, I decided to buy a new one for her and keep the old one for me to play with.

The price came down. Without a contact, the ATT Velocity hotspot is now $60. (two years ago it was $150). And this time, I could buy it from BestBuy rather than AT&T. A far easier buying experience. No shipping so sent right to me.

Setting up an account

Since I bought the hotspot from BestBuy rather than AT&T, I had to set up my own account online. Hardly difficult. The steps:

  1. Go to http://att.com/activateprepaiddata
  2. Enter the SIM number – this is listed as the ICCID on the bottom of the box
  3. Enter IMEI number – this is on a sticker inside the phone (easy to see before putting in the battery). It’s also on the bottom of the box.
  4. The zip code of the user – I used my mother’s
  5. Enter user’s email. I used my mother’s
  6. Pick a plan. I chose the same plan I had before. $25/month for 2GB
  7. Sign up for autopay
  8. Choose a password
  9. Then I went to manage account to set up a name. I repeatedly got “We seem to be experiencing system issues. Please try again later.” on saving. It was true though. I waited 5 minutes and then it saved.

Trying out the hotspot

The battery/case comes separated so I put that together. The device tells you the charge, connection strength and whether you have any new messages. Unlike last time, I didn’t have any messages right away. I had the flashing green light and six messages once I signed up for automatic payment.

New since last time – the device appears to tell you how much bandwidth was used up. This is an illusion. Once I started using data, it directed me to the web for this.

It still shows the number of connected devices.

I connected to the wifi using the default password from a Chromebook and went to http://attwifimanager. I logged in with attadmin (the default) and changed:

  • Network name (it prompted me that I would be disconnected so I reconnected) – I made sure to use a different password
  • The wifi password (it prompted me that I would be disconnected so I reconnected – should have done this with the network name to save a reconnect)
  • Set max number of devices to 2
  • On advanced settings, changed admin login

There was an option to hide the password on the device. I chose this because my mother wanted a password that has other meaning.

Connecting from the Chromebook

Connecting to the new wifi name is easy. Note that the network name is case sensitive
  1. Click the connection from the wifi list
  2. Type password

This didn’t work on the first shot. I tried from my iPad and also no connectivity. So I rebooted the hotspot and it worked.

To remember the connection 

  1. Click the wifi icon and click “Connected to X”
  2. Click network name
  3. Click “Prefer this network”
  4. Ensure “Automatically connect to this network is checked”
  5. Click “close”

 

How fast is the connection?

I ran a speedtest both to see how fast the connection was and to use a chunk of bandwidth to see how reporting worked. The answer was:

  • ping 36 ms
  • download 13 Mbps
  • upload 9 Mbps

Problems

Every once in a while, I have to push the power button on the wifi device for the ChromeBook to connect. I haven’t seen a pattern on this, but it only happens on trying to connect.

Support

Most problems can be dealt with online at att.com/my prepaid, but they do have a phone number: 800-901-9878

chromebook and att wifi

I had upgraded my mother’s Chromebook to a 4g model late last year. I had known that operating system updates didn’t occur over 3g. Unsurprisingly, they don’t occur over 4g either. She’s been taking her laptop to wifi to patch and enjoying the 4g speeds for normal home internet use. Everyone happy. Until now. Her source of convenient wifi has vanished. Now, she could go to Starbucks or the library o use wifi. But that’s not convenient. I decided to look at replacing the monthly 4g bill with a monthly wifi hotspot bill.

The difference

On a prepaid low bandwidth plan, the two are pretty comparable.

Category Verizon 4g ATT wifi hotspot (over 4g)
Where to find the price list Verizon page GoPhone page
Minimum plan per 30 days $20 $25
Amount of bandwidth included 1GB 2GB
Ability to buy more if go over $5 for 300MB $10 for 500MB
Next level plan if not enough bandwidth $30 for 2GB plan $50 for 5GB

In other words $5 more per month for double the bandwidth. And the Chromebook can see it as wifi so patches work.

Trying to buy the hotspot online

The AT&T Velocity hotspot is $149 if you want to use a prepaid plan. (Free with a contract.) I hit two problems trying to buyt it online:

  1. AT&T’s product page either doesn’t work in Safari or is relying on a third party site to render the ability to order the device. Or it’s just broken. I tried reloading the page four times to write this post and it showed up the fourth time. In any case, I switched to Chrome.
  2. When you choose the $149 version, AT&T asks if you are a new or existing customer. I clicked new customer. It then took me to a page to buy a “choice” of plan. The only “choice” was the $50/month plan.

I was able to find out online that while my local AT&T store didn’t have the device in stock, the one at the mall did.

Buying the hotspot in person

This went better. They didn’t try to trick me into buying the $50 plan. They warned me that I had to pay for the first month ($25) while still in the store. No problem. I had planned to buy the first month right away to test anyway.

The receipt was a bit odd. It said the $25 plan was for 1.5GB. Online it shows at 2GB when I check my use so this is just wrong. It also directs to att.com/wireless which isn’t the site to go to for prepaid.

Trying out the hotspot

When I got home, I gave it a shot. It was easy to use. The battery/case comes separated so I put that together. The hotspot is like a cell phone that doesn’t make calls.

The device tells you the charge, connection strength and whether you have any new messages. I had a few from AT&T about the product. It has a touch screen to get messages. Or you can use the website paygonline.com or att.com/mygophone to check them through a computer. You know you have a text because the device blinks with a green light.

The device also tells you how many connections are in use. I went into settings and lowered the max from 10 to 2 by going to http://attwifimanager once connected to the hotspot from the Chromebook. (One for my mother’s Chromebook and one for my iPad when I visit. Being able to use my iPad when I visit is a nice side effect of using a hotspot.) I got a message “The LCD display is in operation, use power button to turn LCD display off and try again” which was easy enough to move past.

I also changed the wifi name from ATT-WIFI-1234 to something more readable and changed the  password to a different set of numbers than the default. It suggests using numbers and letters but then wouldn’t let me choose letters. Once I changed this, my browser hung on saving because it was no longer connected to the new wifi network. Not a big deal, but they could have given a prompt. Once I reconnected, I also disabled broadcasting the SSID.

Note: I had to turn broadcasting the SSID back on to avoid having to enter the password on each connect. Chrome feels it is bad that I’m not broadcasting the network name. I’m annoyed ChromeOS doesn’t work well with hidden SSIDs. I understand that hiding the SSID doesn’t protect it from the bad guys. But it does prevent random people from trying different passwords. But at the same time, I’m worried this isn’t a well supported configuration and my mom will have other troubles later.

Anyway, then I went to settings > advanced to change the admin login so it isn’t attadmin.

I also learned the bandwidth reporting is realtime which is an improvement over Verizon. And that if you don’t use it for hours, you have to press the power button on the hotspot so the wifi network resumes broadcasting. Which is reasonable.

Connecting from the Chromebook

Connecting to the new wifi name is easy. Note that the network name is case sensitive
  1. Join other…
  2. my network with “X wifi” SSID
  3. Security: PSK (WPA or RSN)
  4. Enter password
  5. Don’t click share network

To remember the connection

  1. Click the wifi icon and click “Connected to X”
  2. Click network name
  3. Click “Prefer this network”
  4. Ensure “Automatically connect to this network is checked”
  5. Click “close”

The first Chromebook patch

I did a Chromebook patch over wifi. It took 7 minutes and was approximately 400MB. (GoPhone reports bandwidth use to the nearest 50MB). While that is 25% of the wifi allocation, there is no need to patch the Chromebook every month. Plus my mom has double the bandwidth she used to so it is still an increase.

How fast is the connection?

I ran a speedtest both to see how fast the connection was and to use a chunk of bandwidth to see how reporting worked. The answer was:

  • ping 33ms
  • download 19.94 Mbps
  • upload 11.76 Mbps

Problems

Every once in a while, I have to push the power button on the wifi device for the ChromeBook to connect. I haven’t seen a pattern on this, but it only happens on trying to connect.

running out of bandwidth on a 4g chromebook

My mother has had her new 4G Chromebook for a few weeks now. I subscribed to the same $20 for 1GB plan as before. (Well technically there was a 100MB bonus on the old 3G plan.)

The first month was fine of the plan was me playing with it at home (mostly on wifi) and my vacation to visit her. This month was the first real month of her using it. She never ran out of bandwidth with the laptop and did the first month with the new one. How suspicious. I called Verizon and learned:

  1. Verizon offers text/email alerts on usage thresholds, but not for Chromebook pre-paid plans. In other words, useless to me.
  2. There were two days where she “used” over 200MB. And was online for over two hours. I’m not sure I believe Verizon on that, but I have no evidence to the contrary.

Here’s what we are doing to fix/troubleshoot.

Keep a log

I asked my mother to track her internet usage for a month or two so we can gather more data. She is to track the time she goes on/offline and what she does when online.

Turn off the Chromebook when not in use

I’m not sure if I’m right to be worried about someone piggybacking off her signal, but I told her to turn off (shut down, not sleep) the laptop when not online. This way we can get an accurate pictures of when she is online.

Turn off Flash

Since videos are large, I’m wondering if a website she went to uses Flash for video ads. I asked her to turn off Flash. She never watches videos so this won’t impede her experience.
  1. Type chrome:plugins in the address bar
  2. Scroll down and find the entry for Adobe Flash
  3. Click the disable link
Turn off extra bandwidth “helpers”
I’m concerned that the pre-fetching/pre-loading pages is wasting too much bandwidth. So turning that off. I don’t think the URL completion is significant, but just in case…
  1. Chrome Settings
  2. Show advanced settings
  3. Scroll down to the privacy section and uncheck
    1. “Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar or the app launcher search book
    2. Predict network actions to improve page load performance

What do you think?

Any other ideas for what to do? She’s using a 4G plan exclusively (only going to visit a wifi connection once a month or two when an update comes out). She doesn’t watch videos and has never been a bandwidth intensive user before.

I will say that I’m glad this is a pre-paid plan where they cut you off rather than simply charging for overages.