Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard WWAN Supported EVDO Devices

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Wednesday, 09 September 2009

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard WWAN Supported EVDO Devices

UPDATE - 09/22/09Sierra Wireless USB 598 for Verizon network also supported by Snow Leopard!

The staff here at / have been Mac fanatics for longer than most want to admit. In fact, some of us remember what OS 1.00 looked like and marveled at "multifinder" when it first came out.

Like much cool gadgetry, most early EVDO devices only had windoze applications and little if any support for Mac OS... so in the very early days of's existence more than four years ago, we helped find ways to get modems to work for our Mac bretheren. Times have changed since then and there is now significant Mac support for EVDO devices.

When Apple launched their latest operating system last Friday we rushed and bought our copy of Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" just so we could report to the Mac community which EVDO devices work with built-in WWAN driver support. (yeah, sure we did. thats exactly why we bought it)

Before we get to the results, we want to explain that our testing was not to see how smoothly an UPGRADE would go with any existing carrier software -- our curiousity was how many current EVDO devices from Verizon and Sprint would work without installing any additional software to 10.6 Snow Leopard. Everyone (and we mean everyone) who is currently running any flavor of OS X and using some carrier's connection manager software is strongly advised to uninstall that carrier's software before installing 10.6 Snow Leopard.

To do our testing, we formatted an external firewire drive, did a default installation of 10.6 Snow Leopard, and then made it the startup drive for our 2007 15" MacBook Pro.

Here is a chart that shows EVDO devices that we've tested and successfully connected to the internet with, using only what comes as part of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard:

To say we're amazed at just how many devices worked with the built in WWAN support of 10.6 Snow Leopard would be an understatement. Practically everything we threw at it "just plain worked". One thing to note about built-in WWAN support: its not always immediately obvious. The Verizon MiFi and USB760, along with the Sprint U760, 598U, and Compass 597 all appear on desktop upon recognition by the finder, and present the user with software to install. Don't do it! Instead, you need to drag the volume to the trash (or otherwise eject the volume) and then need to wait until the WWAN menubar icon appears, underneath which you will see it say "Initializing...", as shown below:

what you see when 10.6 recognizes your modem

After the initializing process, the finder will present you with a dialog that looks similar to this one:

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard's WWAN Support will do all the work!

Click on 'Network Preferences...' button to accept and dismiss the dialog and the Network pane of System Preferences will appear with a preset configuration that will allow you to connect to the internet using your device. You'll need to hit "Apply" at bottom right of the pane, and then you can click on connect button within the pane, or use the connect menu under the WWAN menubar icon. You'll also notice in the image below that WWAN menubar icon will show RSSI (signal strength) of your modem's connection. That only displays if you option-click on the menu icon.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard's Network pane, complete with setting for Novatel modem.
To see modem's signal strength as RSSI, option-click the WWAN menubar icon.

Not everything we tried with Snow Leopard worked without some software installation though. Three exceptions. The first was Verizon Wireless PC770 2-in-2 ExpressCard -- which would only work with the latest version of VZaccess manager. Then there was the Franklin Wireless CDU680 (aka Sprint U680). To get the U680 to work, we had to download software from and once installed, franklin's version of a menubar option became available. The other exception was tethering the Sprint MiFi as a USB modem... which was strange because nothing had to be installed in order for the Verizon MiFi to tether via USB. The solution we found wasn't pretty or practical: we installed the Verizon MiFi software and Sprint's SmartView for the U760, then ran uninstallers for both. Remnants that were left after uninstall allowed the Sprint MiFi to tether via USB using WWAN menubar option, just like other devices that were WWAN supported by 10.6 Snow Leopard. A slightly different kind of exception was the Verizon UM175, which did in fact connect to the internet without needing any software installed but did not have the WWAN menubar icon available.

Aside from what devices work, we were curious if "native drivers" that are part of Mac OS X Snow Leopard would provide for any noticeable speed difference. Many long time users of EVDO mobile broadband probably remember that previous WWAN/built-in drivers were found to provide speed increases for many users, but not all. After about 200 speedtests to several different testing sites over the past 3 days, we've concluded that at least from our Dallas testbench, there wasn't any noticeable increase in speed... but who knows if the built in drivers will or won't work for you... only trial and error will determine that for sure.

Many Mac customers are going to ask us whether they should use built in WWAN support, or install the carrier's provided software. For both Verizon and Sprint one compelling reason to use the connection manager provided by the carrier is to receive any technical support from the carrier. Plain and simple, if you aren't using their software, you aren't going to get any technical support. Another important factor is that before you can use any mobile broadband device with OS X's built-in drivers, the modem has to be activated onto the carrier network using their software. The carrier software also is needed for any modem firmware or "PRL" (preferred roaming list) updates. (quick note: certain modems can be activated and get PRL updates through a Cradlepoint router, allowing you the option of never installing carrier connection managers.)

Its worth noting at this point, that's Mac customers are treated differently. If you get your mobile broadband contract through and you prefer to use Mac OS X built-in WWAN support, we can "pre-activate" your modem before it ships out to you, and our Mac heads in tech support will gladly work with you if you encounter any issues. You're likely to consider our Mac-savvy EVDO customer and tech support refreshing, in a world where most tech support agents have never used a Mac (but probably carry an iPhone - LOL)

Another good reason to use the carrier connection software applies only to Sprint EVDO customers: if you value the GPS "Location Based Services" that are enabled with many of Sprint's Mobile Broadband devices like the 598U and U760 -- then you need to use Sprint's SmartView connection manager.

Aside from those reasons TO use the carrier provided connection managers, many readers will agree there are plenty of reasons to avoid them. As mentioned before, there are those who swear that built-in drivers are faster; many argue that if a whole other program is NOT needed, don't waste memory and CPU resources running their "bloatware"; thousands of users despise Sprint's default activation of bytemobile re-compression 'feature' to save Sprint's bandwidth at the expense of good image quality while surfing; and there are even those who swear that built in to the connection managers are 'features' that are rumored to kill P2P connections, and/or will cause your connection to drop or go dormant when the carrier wants you to be disconnected, which never coincides with when you want to be disconnected (never, right?)

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, we haven't done any testing on what works or stops working when someone UPGRADES to 10.6 Snow Leopard. That kind of testing has many more variables to it, and we wanted to get this report out as soon as we could. When we do upgrade testing, we'll append info to this article and at the EVDOforums thread.

If you have questions about Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard's Built-In WWAN Support that aren't answered in this article, feel free to email the mobile broadband experts at -- we don't promise to know it all, but we have been Mac + Mobile Broadband users for longer than most!

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Last Updated ( Monday, 08 February 2010 )
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