There has been some wild speculation regarding Apple building 3G into future laptops. Here at EVDOinfo.com, we love Macs and we love 3G too. Over the last few months, we have been doing our own internal testing and guess what we found?
All current intel based Macs MAY support EVDO RIGHT NOW! It isn't a pretty solution, but it works!
WARNING! This will void your warranty for your Novatel Card and might for your Mac too - so we don't recommend following these steps - they are for informational purposes only
For our testing, we started off with an intel Mac Mini. Here were the steps:
- Purchase a Novatel U720 or USB720 from 3GStore.com
- Activate it on a supported laptop
- Carefully open up the Novatel USB modem and remove the Expedite PCI Express Mini Card Module
- Open up the Mac Mini, remove the built-in Airport PCI Express Mini Card
- Insert the Novatel Expedite into the Airport slot, close up the Mac
- Boot the Mac and Install Apple's WWAN update for EVDO
- Restart and when back the Novatel device will be detected
- Once configured, connect to EVDO
The Apple WWAN Update 1.0 currently can only be installed on MacBook & MacBook Pros. We bypassed the hardware check, so that we could install the Apple WWAN drivers on a Mac Mini. Once the Apple WWAN drivers are installed and we reboot, we get a dialog box showing us the internal EVDO card is recognized:
The Apple WWAN Support icon appears in the menu bar next to the Modem Status icon (telephone icon). The 'bars' represent signal level. When connected, up and down arrows appear dark when sending/receiving data, or gray when not. A time counter also appears next to the Modem Status icon displaying time connected.
Clicking the WWAN Support icon reveals the Apple 3G menu options:
We experienced similar speeds and latency whether setup as a USB modem plugged into the USB port, or whether installed internally in the Mac Mini as a PCI Express Mini Card. Below are the ping times that we saw when connected to EVDO Rev 0 with a weak signal from deep within our shop:
PING 126.96.36.199 (188.8.131.52): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 184.108.40.206: icmp_seq=0 ttl=62 time=157.683 ms
64 bytes from 220.127.116.11: icmp_seq=1 ttl=62 time=142.557 ms
64 bytes from 18.104.22.168: icmp_seq=2 ttl=62 time=156.409 ms
64 bytes from 22.214.171.124: icmp_seq=3 ttl=62 time=142.285 ms
64 bytes from 126.96.36.199: icmp_seq=4 ttl=62 time=157.126 ms
64 bytes from 188.8.131.52: icmp_seq=5 ttl=62 time=141.997 ms
64 bytes from 184.108.40.206: icmp_seq=6 ttl=62 time=154.850 ms
64 bytes from 220.127.116.11: icmp_seq=7 ttl=62 time=141.732 ms
64 bytes from 18.104.22.168: icmp_seq=8 ttl=62 time=183.864 ms
64 bytes from 22.214.171.124: icmp_seq=9 ttl=62 time=146.447 ms
--- 126.96.36.199 ping statistics ---
10 packets transmitted, 10 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 141.732/152.495/183.864/12.324 ms
It would be possible to plug an activated EVDO Rev A device into a MacBook or MacBook Pro, BUT it would involve removing the Airport card. For some, this would not be acceptable. Why did we select a Mac Mini for our testing? There was more room to play around with "things" (Mwah hah ha ha). Once we got it working in a Mini, getting it working in a MacBook or MacBook Pro would be A LOT easier.
Mac Mini - the ultimate Car PC
We may have discovered an interesting thing during this experiment. A Mac Mini doesn't really need the Airport card when used in a car. By replacing it with a Rev A EVDO card, we may have accidently created the ultimate Car PC. With all the extra room inside a Mac Mini, adding one or two µFL to FME bulkhead connectors would be trivial. Hint: the Kensington lock hole easily allows µFL connectors to pass on to the inside as long as the internal shielding is bent or removed. Can you say, "diversity dual-band EVDO antennas"? :)
Verizon vs. Sprint.
If you require Verizon, go with the Verizon USB720, which is a Rev A USB modem. If you require Sprint, go with the Sprint U720, which is a Rev A USB modem.
The Airport card uses antennas that are built-in to the sides of the screen of your MacBook or on the hinge of your MacBook Pro. Those antennas are "tuned" for a different frequency than what EVDO normally uses. There may also be a generational difference between Core Duo and Core 2 Duo AirPort antennas. Because the Core 2 Duo versions of MacBook and MacBook Pros came with firmware updatable support for the higher frequencies found on the new AirPort Extreme Base Station (5GHz), their antennas may have been updated/optimized for 2.4GHz and 5GHz, so they could be different from the 1st generation which may only have been optimized for 2.4GHz.
It is unclear how well any of the MacBook/MacBook Pro's built-in antennas would work with the EVDO connections that use the lower 800MHz frequencies. The Mini's built-in AirPort antenna wasn't too bad with Sprint's normal 1900MHz frequency, but there was some loss. External antennas would help with this, but connecting them on the notebooks would be tough.
MacBook & MacBook Pro - the Ultimate 3G Device?
Currently MacBooks only work with a USB EVDO device because they lack an ExpressCard slot, which is only found on the MacBook Pro. We wish the MacBook (or Pro), had 2 PCI Express Mini Card slots internally, so we can have both an Airport AND EVDO card, but for now, you can only have one. Maybe the fabled ultra-portable MacBook we keep hearing about has dual PCI Express slots. Since the Apple WWAN drivers install only on intel based Mac laptops, no hacking is needed to install the needed software at least. Just a question of whether you can forego the AirPort card and how well the on-board antennas would work for anyone wishing to hack their Mac.