GSM modem means wireless serial connections

By now, most of us have seen have seen one of those GSM to wi-fi hotspot bridges. They’re interesting devices, and being able to carry a small wireless router with you at all times is very handy. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen many builds featuring these portable wireless hotspots, something probably due to the effort in breaking out a serial connection on these devices. The people at Open Electronics decided to build their own small serial-enabled cell phone modem, a boon to someone wanting a serial connection to any place with a cell tower.

The Open Electronics GSM/GPRS/GPS modem includes a header for an FTDI USB serial chip and a GSM module. Plug one into your computer and after a few short commands into a terminal, you’ve got a serial connection to nearly anywhere in the world.

The cost of the setup is a little high – around 80€ or $100 USD – and you probably should buy more than one so you can also receive data. While it is more expensive than the XBee wireless boards we see often, this GSM modem isn’t limited to the 300 foot range of the XBee. We’ll probably see this in a high altitude balloon before too long.

3G connected hotspot hangs out at your house

[Drug123] made the most out of this inconspicuous gray box on the gable end of his father’s home. It serves up a 3G Internet connection that was otherwise unavailable..

The project idea was sparked by the absence of wired or fiber optic broadband in the community where his dad lives. He knew some neighbors were using 3G connections, but he couldn’t get it to work inside the house. So he set about developing an external installation that would both communicate with the cellular network, and provide a WiFi connect to it. Hardware for that is relatively expensive; a USB 3G modem and a WiFi router with a USB port.

The box itself is made of plastic, but even without the Faraday cage effect that would have been formed by using a metal housing, the 3G modem’s internal antenna just doesn’t do the job. You can see that [Drug123’s] solution was an external antenna which is mounted at the peak of the roofline. Inside the box there’s an exhaust fan to cool things off when they get too hot, as well as some power resistors which provide a heat source on the coldest nights. The low-cost build certainly fits the bill, and it’s not too hard on the eyes either.

GSM-to-Skype bridge lets you lose those roaming fees

Here’s the scenario: you’re going to be traveling somewhere and you’ll be charged roaming fees if you use your cellphone. But there is free WiFi available in this place. You can save yourself money by leaving your SIM card at home and using a GSM-to-Skype bridge to take calls on your phone via WiFi.

[Trax] is using a USB GSM modem to take cellphone calls on a PC. He leaves his sim card in this modem so that it can make and receive calls and text messages through your normal telephone number. For some reason, the USB connection only provides control of this modem and doesn’t pass bi-directional audio. To make this happen, he built an audio interface cable using two transformers and a few passive components to connect the modem to the computer’s audio card.

On the software side of things, an application written in Delphi 7 manages the modem, the audio stream, and the Skype application. When a call is incoming it sets up a Skype connection with your handset via the Internet, passing along the caller ID data in the process. If you choose to answer the Skype session the application will pick up the GSM call and you’ll be connected. It works the same way when placing an outgoing call.

This seems easier to manage than a rig that physically pushes a cellphone’s buttons via the Internet.

[Thanks Mure]

Reviving a broken HSDPA modem with a bit of clever investigation


Hack-a-Day forum member [Necromant] was recently working on a router when he made a terrible mistake. He connected the wrong power brick to the router, causing a 2.5v over-voltage. The router itself was just fine, as it contained a good stepdown converter, but the HSDPA modem connected to the router’s USB port was not so lucky. It seems that the USB host is powered directly from the router’s power supply without any conversion – this meant his modem got a nice 7.5v zap when he used the wrong plug.

He assumed the modem was dead, so he figured there was no harm in disassembling it. He examined the modem’s circuit board and found that when plugged in, the onboard stepdown converter supplied 0 volts to the rest of the PCB. He couldn’t find any documentation for the converter online, so he employed a little bit of trial and error clever investigation to determine what sort of voltage the stepdown provided before being cooked.

After a bit of testing with his home-built low dropout regulator, he determined that the damaged stepdown provided 3.3v to the rest of the modem (that’s a 4.2v over-voltage for those of you who are keeping track). He added a linear voltage regulator to the board in place of the old stepdown, which worked for about 15 seconds before overheating.

In the end, he decided to add a pretty hefty 3.3v stepdown converter to the modem, throwing aesthetics to the curb. The result is one ugly, but quite functional HSDPA modem.

14.4 Kbps modem makes excuses for everything

If your boss is like [Michael Scott] you probably find yourself in constant need of plausible reasons for your action or inaction. Now you won’t have to waste away the workday coming up with those ideas yourself because this little box will always provide you with an excuse. It’s actually a 14.4 Kbps modem, which brings back memories of the early ISP days when you’ve find banks of these in the corner to service incoming calls. [Alex] altered the circuit board to map out an ICSP port for the PIC 16F690 that controls the system. Just use your key to unlock the Emergency Excuse Generator and press the button to spit out a doozy. The 8,000 word memory on the microprocessor stores all of the excuses which can be combined a number of different ways based on how the rules files is built. This rule file is by far the most interesting part of the build and worth looking over.

We think this would be a nice addition to the other office electronics you built.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Going cellular with your Arduino projects

You can add a huge measure of extensibiltiy to a project by using a cellular connection. Anywhere the device can get service you can interact with it. In the past this has been a pretty deep slog through datasheets to get everything working, but this tutorial will show the basics of interacting with phone calls and text messages. It’s the 26th installment of what is becoming and mammoth Arduino series, and the first one in a set that works with the SM5100B cellular shield.

We love the words of warning at the top of the article which mention that a bit of bad code in your sketch could end up sending out a barrage of text messages, potentially costing you a bundle. But there’s plenty of details and if you follow along each step of the way we think you’ll come out fairly confident that you know what you’re doing. Just promise us that you won’t go out and steal SIM cards to use with your next project. Find part two of the tutorial here and keep your eyes open for future installments.

Cheap and easy SMS via GSM for your MCU

Non acronym version of the title: send and receive text messages via cell phone communication towers using an Arduino or other microcontroller. “We’ve been doing that for years!” you cry, well yes, technically. But [Fincham] lays it outs simply; commercial offerings are expensive and finding a cell phone that uses RS232 now a days is getting difficult, so a new way of doing the same old is necessary. The good news is USB GSM modems are readily available, cheap, and only require a few interface pins to get them talking with an Arduino. In fact, the image above is all you need.