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WiFi + 3G Mini PCI-Express Card in Macbook Air?


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#1
NessLookAlike

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So it dawned on me earlier today that I would love to have a Macbook Air with an internal 3G modem -- preferably AT&T as I have excellent signal strength at my home with them -- so I searched around on Google for a while and came upon the several-years-old article about the guy who shared the steps he took to mod an EVDO modem into his Air at the cost of removing the Airport+Bluetooth Mini PCI-Express card (his project shown here for reference). The whole setup worked well enough (albeit at a ~20-25% signal loss once the Air was closed up) but it made me think, why not find a Mini PCI-Express card capable of something similar to swap with the current wireless card which would at least retain WiFi connectivity?

So I searched around for a while and stumbled across:

"Option™ GTM679W 4G EV-DO RevA with GPS + Wi-Fi Half-Size PCIe Minicard / Global Bands"
http://www.embeddedw...mp;prod=wwan239

Data Sheet:
http://www.embeddedw...EW-Gobi3000.pdf

This is a unique WWAN/WiFi/GPS Mini PCI-Express card that weighs in at $130.

The description from the site:

"Roam where you want to with this truly global cellular module which supports GSM/HSPA+ networks at blazing 14.4Mbps speeds! This half-size PCI Express minicard also has integrated GPS and Wi-Fi (802.11g) capability, making it one of the most advanced radios in the market! This product is ideal for any PCI-Express ready devices (Single board computers, notebooks, tablets, routers) where a single product SKU and 'carrier agnostic' applications are needed for worldwide deployment and manufacturing."

What you see in the picture is just one part. It features WWAN connectivity (GSM/GPRS/EDGE + UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA + 1xRTT/EV-DO RevA, 850/900/1800/1900 MHz), as well as 802.11g WiFi and GPS. 802.11n would have been nice but maybe there's a card out there that does it all that I just haven't found yet?

The data sheet mentions that the WWAN portion of the card has some kind of SIM-card interface, so it seems as though with the proper configuration one could connect an AT&T SIM (from an iPhone? an iPad? possibly with a micro-SIM to regular-SIM adapter?) or any other supported carrier SIM card and enjoy 3G + WiFi + GPS on the Air, without having to break out the soldering gun.

My only concern would be antenna placement and tuning: AFAIK the current Air models have a 2.4GHz-tuned antenna which would work with the WiFi card fine, but for the modem and GPS to work additional antennas would need to be placed somewhere in the Air.. and I've seen teardown pics, there isn't all the much space to play with, even for just wire placement, and I'm not really in-the-know when it comes to figuring things like best possible antenna configuration and how to minimize radio interference, etc.

Am I overlooking something obvious here? If this was possible and dead-easy, I'm sure others would have done a simple swap by now. Or is this as easy as swap-and-play? I've come out of the woodwork just to find what others think. :)

#2
NessLookAlike

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More possibilities for an internal 3G (or LTE?) capability as opposed to some complex solution that involves soldering, this time without WiFi. Still looking around for more.

If I was to take out my Airport/Bluetooth Mini PCI-Express card and swap and of these in it, would it work just like how it does on my PC -- search for specific drivers, then if none found install generic and functional drivers? I haven't swapped out too many parts on Mac machines before, my knowledge-base is more established with Windows machines.

EDIT: Of course I would be dual-booting between OSX and Windows 7. In Windows I'm sure I would have no problems using the 3G+WiFi card (they're all listed as having Windows/Linux drivers on the mfg sites) but I'd prefer a solution that would let me have connectivity in OSX as well. My ultimate goal would be to use an AT&T SIM card with an unlimited data plan with my Macbook Air so that I could have connectivity (and GPS? WiFi?) on the go. Sounds like how it should already be to me.

EDIT2: See iFixIt's teardown of the most recent 11" Macbook Air model and note the Mini PCI-Express form factor of the wireless card.

EDIT3: Oh, look at that. An updated model -- the GTM671W -- from the company "Option" with 802.11n support and supported for 3G/4G speeds. Delicious. According to the datasheets, there is driver support for Windows 7, Vista, XP, Linux, Windows Mobile and Android? Anybody willing to take one for the team and give this thing a whirl?

EDIT4: Found a polish site trying to sell the card with a few tidbits about the GTM671W:

... Drivers: Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X ...

WARNING!

To be able to use this modem, you must have a laptop computer pre-prepared for such a modem (the computer must have built-in antenna GSM / UMTS antenna connector with brought-out and have a built-in SIM card reader!)

Some notebooks from HP and IBM may have a BIOS lock on this type of modem. Only then will interact with the modem specified by the manufacturer. Holders of HP and IBM notebooks so please make sure the producers or the BIOS does not lock into your existing notebook!

Sounds like it probably has generic drivers that are installed automatically, and its going to need some kind of SIM card reader. The wireless card itself is only half the size of a regular Mini PCI-Express card, so I suppose that a SIM card reader could be soldered together and placed next to the GTM671W in the space left over? This is really starting to sound like a viable solution to having WiFi+3G+GPS in the Air..

#3
symmetricalism

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EDIT2: See iFixIt's teardown of the most recent 11" Macbook Air model and note the Mini PCI-Express form factor of the wireless card.


it may be an actual pci-express interface, but the card and the slot are definitely not standard mini-pcie.

here's a picture i just took of the card in my new macbook air 11" with normal half-height and full-height mini-pcie wireless cards.

even if you could trim the connectors on a normal card to be as tightly constrained as the macbook air's broadcom card, the width of the card will not allow it to fit between various parts on the logic board (see the "AR7" piece in the ifixit photo).

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