Tutorial: Setup Mobile 4G/3G Hotspot with TP-LINK TL-MR3020 Router, ZTE MF823 Modem and EE Data Sim Card

Submitted by nigel on Monday 22nd December 2014

Here is a tutorial for setting up a mobile 4G hotspot to share Internet connectivity with a number of hand held devices. This is particularly useful for a group of pals on long train journeys (e.g. me and my mates going to the football) but also for camping holidays and of course moving into a new property before a landline based Internet connection has been established.

I elected for the TP-Link 3G/4G Wireless N Router product TL-MR3020 which is very compact and has good reviews. For the modem I needed to select a device that was compatible with the router and, having perused the compatibility list online I went for an unlocked, carrier agnostic ZTE MF823 USB dongle. This was bought on eBay and arrived with 3 network packaging. Finally I needed a sim card and the best deal was EE's 90 days with 6GB preloaded. Bill of materials below.

Bill of Materials
Router TP-Link Portable 3G/4G Wireless N Router Model TL-MR3020 Amazon.co.uk £18.90
Sim Card EE 4G 6GB Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband Combi Sim Amazon.co.uk £16.77
Modem ZTE MF823 4G Dongle eBay £59.95
  TOTAL   £95.62
Getting started - the products
Getting started - the products

There are no surprises with the products - everyone will be familiar with a Sim card, and network dongles are a commonplace site for most commuters. The router was surprisingly and pleasantly small, and a neat feature is it came with an RJ45 network cable to connect it directly with a laptop.

Install the Sim card
Install the Sim card

The first job is to get the sim card installed into the dongle. As ever, care must be taken when snapping the sim card out of its surrounds. The dongle's top cover slides off with a small amount of pressure using your thumb pushing backwards a few millimetres. Care must be taken when inserting the sim although there is a tiny inset on the dongle giving a graphical representation of the correct way. Also note there is another slot for a MicroSDHC card for saving media. I won't be using this functionality since the modem will be connected to the router.

Insert modem into laptop
Insert modem into laptop

You would think you would now be able to plug the modem into the router? Nope! The sim card has to be registered before it can be activated - and thus you will need a laptop into which to plug the modem before you can start. I have a Linux laptop and it worked fine - you should see a blinking green light on top of the modem. So if it works on Linux, it'll work on anything....

Wired Connection
Wired Connection

Now your mileage will vary here depending upon which operating system you are using. But with the KDE desktop in openSUSE 13.1 I got a wired network connection notification telling me there was a connection to the Internet. Which ever operating system you are using, you will doubtless receive a notification similar to this.

Registration
Hotspot1

Open a browser and point it to any web address and it will automatically redirect to the EE registration home page. First activity is to register the sim, and then you are redirected to a dashboard with a countdown on how many days your sim card has left and how much data you have used. Don't forget to favourite the landing page!

Router Setup - connect to laptop
Router Setup - connect to laptop

Unplug the modem and plug in the router to configure it. The unit needs a lot of power so use both USB plugs and also connect the RJ45 lan cable into the laptop.

Router Setup - Access admin pages
Router Setup - Access admin pages

The router needs some configuration so point a browser at 192.168.0.254 and you will be prompted with a standard http authentication screen. The standard login and password (which can be changed) is 'admin' and 'admin' respectively.

Router Setup - Network
Router Setup - Network

The router comes with a wizard to setup the device but I chose to cherry pick since there's very little beyond the default configuration that needs changing. So go to Network -
> 3G/4G
 and set the location and mobile ISP which in my case is UK and EE.

Router Setup - Timezone
Router Setup - Timezone

Next go to System Tools -> Time settings and select your timezone and tick the daylight savings if you wish.

Router Setup - Network Name
Router Setup - Network Name

Next go to Wireless -> Wireless settings and change your network name (SSID) to something more meaningful. The is the name you will see in your list of available WiFi networks on your mobile device. Once you've done this, save and reboot the router.

Plug in modem
Plug in modem

Unplug the RJ45 cable from the laptop and plug in the modem in the USM slot on the router. After a few seconds it will stabilise and you should see the green flashing light on the top the modem. This signifies you are good to go.

Wireless connections
Wireless connections

Pick up your nearest hand held device which in my case was my Samsung S4 Android phone, and navigate to the list of wireless networks. On my device you can see my current network, my second home network under that, and my new 4G network underneath that. Touch that network to connect.

Wireless password / key
Wireless password / key

You will now be prompted for a password. This is referred to as the 'key' by the router and can be set to a different value in the configuration, but for simplicity the shipped key is printed on the label on the device. So providing you haven't changed it, type this key into your hand held device.

Connected
Connected

The device will now connect to the 4G network - here's now the list of connections on my phone

Browser check
Browser check

A final check - point your device's browser at any URL. I chose the BBC website and lo and behold - success!! Yippee!!!!!

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Hardware