Adding LTE Modem and other USB devices

Hi,

after reading this topic while also coming from using a Thinkpad T450s with the option of adding a miniPCI LTE modem and SIM card for mobile internet, I got motivated to mod my reform to have the same functionality.

TLDR; here is how my final result looks like:

We cannot add an LTE minipcie card because there is only a single slot available that is already occupied by the wifi card. Finding a minipcie card that offers both wifi and LTE seems to be impossible. There exist pcie switches (splitters do not work because the reform only has a single 1x) which cost hundreds of Euros. There is also the problem of where to plug the SIM card.

So instead, I chose to add a USB LTE modem into the case. This also solves the problem of where to put the SIM card. But now the problem is, that the Reform only has two USB connectors on its motherboard which are already occupied by the keyboard and trackball. To attach more USB devices, we also have to add a USB hub into the housing.

To neatly install all the additional hardware inside the reform case I got inspired by how the transparent acrylic antenna holder used the two JST PH USB connectors on the board to keep the acrylic rectangle in place and 3D printed a bunch of additional shapes using the same principle to stay in place without glue or tape or screws:

Here are the openscad sources for above five parts that I printed with PLA on an Ultimaker S5: carrier boards ($1) · Snippets · Snippets · GitLab

  • Top left: placed above the SD-Card slot and next to the Ethernet port. Includes clamps that fit a Huawei E3372 LTE USB stick after removing one of its plastic covers as well as rails into which a DEBO micro USB to UART adapter can be slid into. The little legs fix it in z-direction.
  • Top right: placed where the transparent acrylic piece would normally go using the same mechanism of using the JST PH connectors to remain in place. The small plastic piece can be slid into the bigger one and will hold a Laird antenna in place without needing to glue it (I don’t like the non-reversibility of glue). At the other end, a no-name 4 port USB hub from China (very popular on ebay) measuring 19 times 29 mm can be slid into.
  • Bottom right: alternative side-panel including an additional hole for the USB UART micro-USB port as well as a small plastic nob holding the top-left part into place in y-direction.
  • Bottom left: placed next to the trackball and holding a board with two USB-A ports into place

Shopping list:

Buy more JST PH 4 plugs, sockets and crimps because it’s easy to fail. The USB cables have to be soldered to the plugs in the following order: black (ground), green (D-), white (D+), red (+5V).

Originally I wanted to use the Nano Hub as a very tiny USB hub but that sadly has been sold out for months. Instead, I went with a cheap no-name USB hub with a FE1.1s chip in it. There are plenty of those on ebay and I got scammed twice in an effort to get one of those. An alternative is to buy the Manhattan USB Micro Hub for 9 USD and remove its housing. The board inside is only a few Millimeters larger. The bigger downside is, that then you have to throw the case away (and I dislike throwing things away) and that the legs of the JST PH sockets have to be bent just a little to fit where the actual USB-A ports were soldered before.

I will update this post with any questions you might be having. Thanks!

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Looks great! I’m going to try a slight variant of this mod once the following components arrive:

I already have these parts on hand and not being used for anything at the moment:

Will check in again after my parts arrive sometime between mid-October to mid-November and after I get a chance to try the mod.

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I’m pretty certain combined wifi/wwan modem cards don’t actually exist

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing !, a step by step guide for newbies would be handy hehe :slight_smile:

What is it that you would like to know? I can amend my original post so that it answers any question you might have.

Option had a GTM line with combo wlan/wwan cards (of which only one model also had a sim slot and is unobtanium), i had one in a X220T for a while and it worked as advertised. If replacement modules were available it’d be nice…

josch, I would be interested in hearing about your experience with the reliability of your cellular connection. I ask because the Librem 5 is basically using a USB cell modem as well, and the connectivity on it is REAL hit or miss.

The convergence mode on the L5 is really compelling but with the state of the modem there it is a deal breaker. I need stable data as a minimum.

Thanks for sharing with us your work on your Reform!!

What kind of stats would you like to see?

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Really just wondering if the cell data is a reliable connection?

depends where you are, how good the reception is, how loaded the cell is… it’s really not possible to say one way or the other for certain.

The reason I ask is because the cellular performance is real hit or miss on the Librem 5 which is using the same SoC. By hit or miss, I mean that sometimes the modem will not connect, sometimes it will but no data will work. Sometimes it will just disconnect and restart. Sometimes it wont show up after booting or resuming from suspend.

These are the reasons I am asking about stability. I would be interested to know if the USB modem is working after coming back suspend, etc.

Then I’m afraid I cannot answer your question. In contrast to your Reform, suspend is extremely unreliable for me and thus I rarely ever suspend my machine. That’s why I cannot test how reliable my LTE is after resuming from suspend because my suspend is unreliable.

Interesting. Yeah my Reforms basically lives in suspend. When I’m not using it, it is suspended. Old habits I guess.

Still very cool that you added a LTE modem to yours. I mean your Reform is basically your one stop computing shop.

A follow-up to my previous post!

I put everything together using the components mentioned in my last post, with the addition of a kit for making cables with male and female Dupont pin terminals and a crimper. I used wire I’ve salvaged from other electronics and projects in the past. Everything seems to be working well. There were a few tricky bits, though, which I’ll list below:

  • The four headers along the edge of the USB hub need to be soldered some distance away from the board in order for the board to slide into its carrier.
  • The right angle header pins on my UART board needed to be soldered in with the plastic bits on top of the board in order to be low-profile enough to fit. I clipped off the pins on the back with my flush cutters and carefully trimmed away the plastic bits. It’s a pretty tight fit on this carrier board, so clip the pins on the back as close as possible. I had to add 0.3mm to the channel into which the PCB slides to make it fit.
  • You’ll have to remove the USB connector from the Huawei. I’d never successfully desoldered a USB connector before, but I watched a few videos and managed it this time! “Helping hands” were essential here. I clamped the USB connector with the “helping hands,” added a bunch of solder to all the pins, ran my soldering iron along the pins, and gently pulling on the PCB. Cleaned up the PCB with a manual solder pump, a desoldering braid, and some flux.
  • The clips on the Huawei carrier are fragile. Ended up printing the carrier four times and the clips broke each time. (Using carbon-fiber reinforced polycarbonate.) Might’ve been an issue with my printing material, might have been a problem with layer adhesion, but either way: I wound up just holding the pieces together with Kapton tape instead.
  • The fit around the Huawei and the UART is a little tight. There are some “line out” pins under the UART that push it away from the PCB a bit, and the Huawei is a bit thick for the space, so the acrylic now bows out by about a millimeter.
  • Having the Huawei plugged in and in modem mode during boot seems to have given it priority over the wifi card somehow. I’ll need to work out what the problem is and figure out how to deal with it “correctly,” but in the meantime running this command seems to work, despite showing an error:
    sudo usb_modeswitch -u 8 -v 12d1 -p 14dc
  • Putting the Huawei into modem mode in the first place is done with: sudo usb_modeswitch -J -v 12d1 -p 1f01
    Double-check that the product flag has the right value with lsusb first. IIRC, the product number changed after I took it out of “storage mode.” You also might need to install the usb_modeswitch command with sudo apt install usb-modeswitch first.

I think that’s everything. I put the OpenSCAD code into a repository on Codeberg, added support for the UART I happened to have on hand, and hopefully made it easier for other people to add support for other UARTs as well. I also broke the code up into modules to make it easier to pick and choose which boards to print.

@josch, I’ve released this code under the CERN-OHL-S license, which is the same license the Reform itself has been released under. I recognize I don’t have the right to do this unilaterally, as this is based on your code. Please let me know if you’d rather use a different license or host the code elsewhere or anything.

Meanwhile, I managed to fry something on my motherboard while doing this mod (released the “magic smoke” from some component due to letting metal touch the board with the batteries in) and now my batteries won’t charge, so I’ll be debugging that next. :stuck_out_tongue:

Edit: Looks like I may have only burned out the trace from LEFTBAT to RIGHTBAT. Soldered some solid-core wire over the top and everything seems to be working again.

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Interesting… I did not need to do anything like that. Everything worked as expected out of the box. Weird…

I’m placing my own code in the public domain (which is technically not possible in Germany but just imagine an equivalent to that) so feel free to do whatever you like with my openscad files including not mentioning my name or anything. I just want to put my openscad code out there and I do not care about any attribution or anything. But thanks for asking! :slight_smile:

Oh no… :frowning:

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