UPDATE: Macheen came through, see end of article.
I recently purchased a Lenovo T430 laptop and decided to bite the bullet and opt for one with mobile broadband hardware built it (an Ericsson H321), when the unit arrived it was pre-installed with a SIM card for Lenovo Mobile Access (LMA) a service which, despite the name, I am told is nothing to do with Lenovo and is run by partner Macheen. What follows is my experience with them, the issues I had and my review of the overall service, pricing and support – if you’re in a rush, jump to the summary.
The Signup Process
Initially every time I tried to use the Lenovo Mobile Broadband service I was asked to register the device. Unfortunately each attempt to do this resulted in a “Provided device ID does not match” message.
After numerous attempts to do this, including entering the device ID manually, via the mobile broadband connection, via an alternative connection, etc. I emailed the support email address on the website.
A few days later I got an email back saying “Your device ID xxxxxx100xxxxxxxxx has been activated and you should now be able to register for your LMA account” – while I appreciate the fix, the geek in me would like to have known what the problem was.
I was now able to sign up for an account and I received my confirmation email – woohoo!
Unfortunately this was a little too late for the four day trip during which I was hoping to have the access.
What I didn’t realise was that ‘provisioning the device’ and registering for an account were only two steps of the overall process. When I logged in using my new account to try and purchase mobile broadband for a train journey I was about to take, I was told that the device now needed to be activated and it should take a few minutes during which I should leave the laptop connected solely to the mobile network.
I waited for a few minutes. I waited for a few minutes more. I waited for an hour and came back. Finally I went to work and left the laptop on.
When I came back and checked my laptop; success! I could see that the option to purchase time was now available!
Purchasing Mobile Broadband
Macheen have taken what I think is a smart stance on handling purchasing of time – you add money to your account and then buy‘Time Passes’ as and when you need them. I like this simply because it means if I quickly want to buy 30 minutes of access for a journey, I don’t have to start messing around with my credit card, etc.
Unfortunately when I tried to add money to my account via my laptop and the Macheen connection, my card kept coming back ‘Declined‘ in a suspiciously short amount of time, sure enough when I logged in my desk top, the same card went through fine and the credit was applied.
Selecting a Time Pass
Yesterday while on a train I rubbed my hands together with glee at the prospect of mobile broadband and went to my Lenovo Mobile Access account and selected a 30 minute ‘time pass’. All went well and I was told that the time pass would show up shortly and that the it was valid in the UK only.
Within a minute, a message appeared informing me that I couldn’t use the time pass because:
“The time pass you purchased cannot be used in this region”
At the time I was in Newcastle Upon Tyne (in the UK)
I tried this again on another day and received the same message. Now I had wasted a great deal of time AND spent some of my hard-earned cash I was starting to get annoyed so I emailed LMA/Macheen.
Support Steps Up
While the Lenovo Mobile Access product may have left something to be desired, their support team is excellent – I got an email from a manager and phone call from a very competent technician called Andrei.
Unfortunately despite seven phone calls (covering over an hour and a half of talk time) with the LMA/Macheen support team, I am still no closer to being able to connect to Lenovo Mobile Access. A main problem seemed to be that my laptop was (and is) determined to choose whatever network it sees fit to connect to, whether it be Orange, T-Mobile or three and there is now way to get it to disconnect (if you click disconnect it just stubbornly reconnects itself a fraction of a second later).
Solving the Random Network Selection
As mentioned above, I have been unable to disconnect from a network on Windows 8 and this means I cannot choose an alternative cellular network because the laptop cannot scan while connect (but of a Catch 22).
The Solution in the end was simply to connect to a wifi network which causes the modem to disconnect from mobile networks yet stay active so that it can scan.
So Who’s To Blame?
Well in all of this I’ve learnt a number of things, namely:
1) Windows 8’s much talked about mobile broadband management sucks – it’s so bad its virtually useless.
2) Lenovo’s Access Connections software – which is an excellent mobile network management tool – is incompatible with Windows 8
3) Lenovo’s support team are saying that Access Connections has been replaced by the Lenovo Location Awareness Windows 8 App. They don’t seem to understand that this app is a Wifi/Lan Utility for managing local network settings and nothing to do with Mobile Broadband.
This leads me to conclude that Microsoft and Lenovo must equally share the blame. Microsoft because the native Windows 8 mobile broadband management is so appalling and Lenovo because they know this and yet have provided an alternative, despite selling both the hardware and the cellular service.
Not yet I’m afraid. Despite now reliably managing to get my laptop to connect to the 3 UK cellular network who are Macheen’s preferred provider, I’m still unable to browse the internet. Despite the fact that I know the laptop is connected as it resolves all domain names via DNS fine and can browse the http://mobile.lenovo.com website fine.
Macheen are sending me a new SIM card so we’ll see how that turns out.
Update: Macheen Came Through
I’m very happy to say that while Lenovo clearly were not ready for Windows 8 Mobile broadband, their partner Macheen were. As soon as I started dealing directly with Macheen my entire experience improved – firstly I received my SIM card within just two days sent via expedited courier.
As soon as I plugged it in to my laptop I was able to get a connection. For my trouble Macheen credited my account some data and I immediately tested it and was not disappointed.
Around two weeks later I had a long car journey (four hours) and so had my wife drive so I could work using the Macheen connection – I had a stable internet connection for 99% of the journey, despite going on motorways, city driving and service stations out in the countryside.
The speed was good enough that I was able to do not only the usual pedestrian tasks such as email and web browsing but could also remotely control PCs and servers based in the Caribbean (I was in the UK) – very impressive.
A month or so after that I used it again on a train journey from the North of England to London – again it gave a solid reliable connection.
In summary I’d say from a software perspective both Lenovo and Microsoft have a long way to go before managing mobile broadband is intuitive on Windows 8.
From a service provider perspective, Macheen have proven to be reliable, efficient and – more importantly – the connectivity you purchase performs wonderfully even when commuting (which is why many people will be buying it).