3G and GPRS modems with pppd

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Why not to use a pppd wrapper (like wvdial or similar)?. I particularly switched to direct pppd because my previous software sometimes silently exited instead of reconnecting, as it was configured to do, requiring me to travel to manually perform the reconnection.

You may be reading this page by the same reason it was written for: you may have finally concluded that the lesser the layers, the less likely the troubles.

Prerequisites and tested hardware

The only requirement is the ppp package (2.4.5-1 tested). The method described supports easy switching between several carriers and 3G and GPRS modes. It has been tested and directly works with no modifications (except for the device name) with:

  • Huawey EM770 MiniPCIe modem (Asus Eee PC 1000H Go internal integrated modem).
  • Huawey E220 external USB dongle.
  • Nokia N73 (USB tethering; select "PC Suite" when the phone asks).

This guide assumes that your modem hardware is properly detected and working. You simply may look at /var/log/messages to discover the device names appeared when the modem is plugged in. Alternatively:

root@quark:~# dmesg | grep GSM | grep attached
usb 1-6: GSM modem (1-port) converter now attached to ttyUSB0
usb 1-6: GSM modem (1-port) converter now attached to ttyUSB1
usb 1-6: GSM modem (1-port) converter now attached to ttyUSB2
usb 2-2: GSM modem (1-port) converter now attached to ttyUSB3
usb 2-2: GSM modem (1-port) converter now attached to ttyUSB4

In this computer there are 2 devices available: a internal 3G modem (ttyUSB0) and a external 3G dongle (ttyUSB3). The Nokia phones use other device names, like ttyACM0. The extra devices created are useful to get and query the internal modem state while the main one is in use (you may try the cat command on them).



Create this file:


The first line is the modem device (ttyUSB0 in the example) and it will be a permanent option while your hardware doesn't changes. You may want to modify some options (see man pppd). The proposed setup tries to keep the connection permanently established, reconnecting when necessary.


Add these files:

root@quark:/etc/ppp/peers# ll
total 8
-rw-r----- 1 root root 141 Jun 20 19:29 mobile-auth
-rw-r----- 1 root root 104 Jun 20 19:29 mobile-noauth
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root  13 Jun 20 19:30 provider -> mobile-noauth

The provider symlink defines the default peer for pppd, and as you see it points to the mobile-noauth file. It is possible to setup a different file with user/password for each carrier (with mobile-auth being a example) but it seems that this is not necessary (at least, not for Vodafone or Simyo in Spain).




Since the chatscripts directory does not exists in Arch, manually create it to place a few new files there:

root@quark:/etc/ppp/chatscripts# ll
total 44
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root  15 Jun 19 19:17 apn -> apn.es.vodafone
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  37 Jun 19 16:27 apn.es.simyo
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  35 Jun 19 16:27 apn.es.vodafone
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 394 Jun 20 19:29 mobile-modem.chat
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root  12 Jun 19 18:59 mode -> mode.3G-only
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  29 Jun 19 22:12 mode.3G-only
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  28 Jun 19 17:05 mode.3G-pref
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  29 Jun 19 17:05 mode.GPRS-only
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root  28 Jun 19 17:06 mode.GPRS-pref
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   3 Jun 19 23:40 mode.NONE
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   8 Jun 20 19:29 pin -> pin.CODE
-rw------- 1 root root  13 Jun 20 19:29 pin.CODE
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   3 Jun 19 23:37 pin.NONE

The core script is mobile-modem.chat, which dialogues with the modem and properly inserts another tiny scripts for selecting the APN, GPRS/3G and the PIN code. You probably won't need to modify it. This script is interpreted by the limited (but powerful enough) chat tool, included in the standard ppp package. With the proposed method, you'll keep a little personal file-based "database" of settings.

If you exchange the SIM card, to select the new carrier you only need to update the apn symlink to point to the correct apn file and restart the ppp network (for example with killall -HUP pppd). The same for changing between 3G/GPRS forced modes (mode symlink).

The other files consist in a single line, which in some cases you may need to modify in order to customize it.




(of course, you'll have to create your own apn files, replacing "ac.vodafone.es" or "gprs-service.com" by your own APN strings on them).



If your SIM card has the PIN code disabled, you should symlink pin to pin.NONE to avoid sending it. When a SIM card has the PIN code enabled, it is only required to be sent the first time after power on. There is a modem command to query about this, but since I didn't find a reliable way to use it in the chat script, the PIN, when enabled, is always sent. This has no drawbacks, other than a little additional delay also due to the chat script limitations while recovering from the modem error response (if the PIN was no longer required).






The SYSCFG line in the mode.* files is device-dependent, and likely Huawey-specific. It does not works in Nokia phones (you may symlink mode to mode.NONE, which only sends the AT command with no effect). I had to investigate before achieving success with both EM770 and E220 modems. Despite many forums reporting a "4" trailing code, it seems that the trailing 0/1 number, while optional in E220, becomes mandatory in EM770 for truly switching the mode. At the end of this guide there are explained the available options for this command. As previously said, you may simply link to mode.NONE and use your modem defaults in case of problems.

Start the pppd

To start the pppd daemon, either run pon/poff or /etc/rc.d/ppp start|stop, but better do not mix both methods. I added "@ppp" after "network" in the DAEMONS line of /etc/rc.conf (the "@" places it in background, since pppd start may be a bit slow).

The log is stored in /var/log/messages.

With the above proposed setup, while the new ppp0 interface is up, pppd will automatically and temporarily replace your default route as well as the /etc/resolv.conf contents. It seems very reliable handling these switchings (the backup is kept in resolv.conf.backup.ppp0, but I never had to manually restore it, even after a power failure).

Patch for modem availability after booting

If you automate the pppd start, it may occur that the modem device does not exists at the moment of the pppd lauch during the computer boot. I begin to have this problem starting with Ubuntu karmic (even on eth0!) and it continued after switching into Arch, but fortunately now only with the external USB 3G modem (no matter you force or not the USB modem module load in rc.conf: that helps, but the device may be still not always available when pppd comes into scene).

The pppd daemon rejects to start when the configured device does not exists, and it doesn't seems to have an option to force it to start (note that in case the device dissapears once pppd is already running, for example by momentarily disconnecting the external 3G USB modem, pppd will continue running and will reconnect once it appears again).

In case you have this problem, the following may be not the best or the more elegant fix, but it indeed works. Edit /etc/rc.d/ppp and add a line in the "start)" section after the "stat_busy" line with a text like:


Now create a wait-dialup-hardware script in /etc/ppp. It will typically wait for 0-2 seconds. The modem device is assumed to be the first line on /etc/ppp/options-mobile. Do not forget to make the script executable:


The script will add a line to /var/log/messages during the computer boot:

Jun  1 22:52:08 parsec logger: /etc/ppp/wait-dialup-hardware: OK existing required device /dev/ttyUSB0 (in 1.25 seconds)


In case of using a wrong PIN, my modem consistently rejects the APN setting phase (no error in the steps before). This is how /var/log/messages looks like:

Jun 20 00:17:30 quark chat[3348]: send (AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","ac.vodafone.es"^M)
Jun 20 00:17:31 quark chat[3348]: expect (OK)                                
Jun 20 00:17:31 quark chat[3348]: ^M
Jun 20 00:17:31 quark chat[3348]: AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","ac.vodafone.es"^M^M
Jun 20 00:17:31 quark chat[3348]: ERROR^M                               
Jun 20 00:17:34 quark chat[3348]: alarm
Jun 20 00:17:34 quark chat[3348]: Failed

It would be a long story, but I'll simply abbreviate it: if you have just set or changed the PIN in a phone, please reboot the phone and try it in the phone before placing the SIM card in the modem (I'm not sure if the PIN updates take effect just at the moment they are done in the phone menus).

In case of frequent manual pppd restarts, as for example when testing configuration options, the EM770 (firmware upgraded to sometimes becomes confused. Despite it responds to the AT commands, it gets stuck in a "NO CARRIER" reply (while the 3G network is ok, as a mobile phone may report). This not occurs with the proposed scripts (in case of connection lost, they wait enough time before retrying). With the modem stuck, powering OFF and then ON the computer solves the problem. This is perhaps a firmware bug. Also, when using a PIN, this modem returns a NO CARRIER reply in the first connection try (it seems that a huge wait after setting the PIN helps; anyway the same effect is achieved by the ordinary connection retry). While running, the EM770 is stable, but the E220 or the Nokia phones are far more reliable in the connection phase. Your mileage may vary depending on your hardware.

AT^SYSCFG Huawey command reference

To see the supported values, you can query your own modem sending the "AT^SYSCFG=?" command.


13=GSM only
14=WCDMA only
16=no Change

1=GSM prefered
2=WCDMA prefered
3=no Change

3fffffff = All
other (query list with "AT^SYSCFG=?")

0=Not Supported
2=no Change

0=Circuit-Switched only
1=Packet-Switched only
2=Circuit- & Packet-Switched
4=no Change

AT^SYSCFG=? command output on Huawey EM770:

^SYSCFG:(2,13,14,16),(0-3),((80000,"GSM850"),(200000,"GSM1900"),(400380,"GSM900/GSM1800/WCDMA2100"),(4a80000,"GSM850/GSM1900/WCDMA850/WCDMA1900"),(3fffffff,"All Bands")),(0-2),(0-4)

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