Wide Area Networking Via Cellular Providers: Sprint CF2031 Compact
Flash Card with PC Card Adapter - Posted May 2003 by Lisa
Gade., Editor in Chief
The CF2031 Compact
Flash card from Sprint PCS is a combined data/voice card running
on Sprint's US 2.5G high speed cellular network (also known
as CDMA 2000 and CDMA 1xRTT). Sprint has most major metro regions
covered with this high speed service, and they're still expanding
their network. What makes the Sprint card so cool? It's a CF
type II card that works with Pocket PCs that have a CF type
II slot (Dell Axim, Toshiba
e740 and e750, and iPAQ with
a CF sleeve). It also comes
with an adapter so that you can use the card in your Windows
notebook PC. Sprint has the edge on Verizon, the other major
US CDMA mobile phone service provider, since Verizon only sells
PCMCIA cards like the AirCard 555 which
work with Windows notebooks and the iPAQs using the PC Card
What is PCS Vision?
What the heck is PCS Vision? It's Sprint's name
for their high speed CDMA 2000 wireless cellular network. Most
mobile phone service providers in the US run this service over
CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Verizon and Sprint are
examples of these carriers.
The next generation network technology for CDMA
networks is CDMA2000, which allows more users to connect to
a cell tower than did CDMA and at a much higher speed (14.4k
max vs. 144k max). If you've read about 3G (standing for 3rd
generation cellular transmission technology), then 2.5G is
the incremental step on the way. CDMA2000, 2.5G for CDMA carriers,
is cheaper and easier to implement than 3G because providers
can upgrade existing towers and networking hardware without
too much cost or fuss. 3G will require a good deal of infrastructure
replacement, so we likely won't see the technology in the US
in less than several more years.
PCS Vision is the rough equivalent in terms of
speed to GPRS, which is the GSM network's version of 2.5G.
However, CDMA 2000 speeds (Sprint's PCS Vision and Verizon's
Express Network) get about 50 - 60k speeds, while GPRS gets
What's in the Box
You'll get a driver CD for Pocket PCs and Windows
notebooks. There are drivers for Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 and
XP (no Mac or Linux). There is no manual on the CD. Instead
the installer has a link to the manual on Sprint's site,
but that link was broken. I was able to find the manual by
perusing the help section of the sprintpcs.com web site.
Of course you get the CF card itself, which has a 1" extendable
antenna that rests flush with the card when retracted (see
the black nub on the right side of the unit in the picture
to the right). I never had to extend the antenna to get a
strong signal. The card has a standard mobile phone 2.5mm
headset jack on the top edge, and you must use a headset
if you wish to make voice calls. You'll also get a CF to
PCMCIA adapter so you can use the card in a notebook with
a type II PCMCIA slot. There's a battery pack that attaches
to the head of the card when using it with a Pocket PC, and
a charger for the battery pack. The battery pack holds a
replaceable 3.7v Lithium Ion cell phone style battery.
You'll get a CD with drivers for Pocket
PC and notebook PCs, a quick start guide, the CF card, CF
to PCMCIA adapter, battery pack for use with Pocket PCs and
a charger for the battery pack.
The Sprint PCS 2031 CF card and battery
pack in a Toshiba e755.
Setup and Use with Pocket PCs
The CF2031 supports Pocket PC and Pocket PC 2002 PDAs
with a type II CF slot. We tried it on a Dell Axim X5 and a Toshiba
e755 and it worked reliably on both. When using the card with a Pocket
PC you must connect the battery pack (the manual states that you
can do "fatal" damage to the PDA if you don't attach the
battery pack). It clips onto the back side of the card and has a
swivel joint so that you can swing the battery behind the PDA (see
Driver installation was a breeze, and requires about
500k of storage space on the Pocket PC. Upon completing installation,
you'll see the PCS Connection Manager application on your Pocket
PC. It launches automatically when you insert the card, and stays
running even if you switch to another application. Data connections
were reliable and speeds averaged around 50 to 55k.
The main screen, shown below, has a signal strength
indicator, battery pack charge level icon and a Go button which initiates
a data session. If you wish to use the card for voice calls, you
can select the voice option from the Tools menu, and you'll see the
dialer interface shown below, which mimics a mobile phone keypad
and display. Call quality for voice on both the Pocket PC and notebook
were quite good— just remember that you must use a headset
to make voice calls. When the card is inserted, your Pocket PC will
indeed ring and you can accept incoming calls by pressing any key
other than End or Back on the Dialer screen, or by pressing any of
the 4 application buttons on the Pocket PC: very cool! If you're
in an active data session you won't be able to send or receive calls,
but if the data connection is dormant (the connection goes dormant
when no data has been transferred for a period of time) you can make
The PCS Connection Manager can also display incoming
text messages, your call history and an alert log. Last but not least,
it has an embedded phone book, which pulls your Pocket Outlook contacts.
You can't add new contacts into the Phone Book, instead you'll need
to enter then in Pocket Outlook or in Outlook on your desktop.
Setup and Use with Windows Notebook PCs
Setup and installation was a painless process on our
Windows XP notebook as well. You'll pick your OS version from the
setup menu and the installer places necessary drivers on your notebook
and creates a dialup connection for the card (which acts as a modem,
not network card).
The installer places an icon for the PCS Connection
Manager on your desktop, and a system tray applet that watches for
the card. The PCS Connection Manager for Windows has all the features
mentioned in the Pocket PC version and looks quite similar, so you
won't have to learn two different applications to use this card on
both platforms. One difference is that the PC Phone Book doesn't
integrate with Outlook or any other PIM app, so you'll need to enter
your contacts manually.
Performance was reliable, and connection speeds averaged
around 50 to 60k. These are about the same speeds you'll get using Verizon's
AirCard 555 without compression software. The Verizon card does
come with Venturi compression software that can increase download
speeds dramatically. I'd love to see Sprint bundle a similar app
with their data cards.
Why Choose the PC Card Over a Pocket PC Phone Edition
First, here's why to choose a Pocket PC Phone Edition
PDA over this card: If you're looking for a voice-centric solution,
then the Pocket PC Phone Edition units may be a better choice. You
won't be able to use this card for voice without a headset.
When buying a Pocket PC Phone Edition like the Audiovox
Thera, Toshiba 2032 or T-Mobile, you're
married to the device. If you want to upgrade your Pocket PC, you've
also got to worry about changing your mobile phone (and associated
contract issues if switching providers). PPC Phone Edition PDAs tend
not to have cutting edge features like the fastest processors, lots
of memory or SDIO expansion slots, and for Pocket PC power users
and frequent upgraders, this can be a downer. With the 2031 CF card,
you can switch/upgrade you Pocket PC whenever you wish, as long as
your Pocket PC has a CF type II slot. The card also does double duty,
acting as a modem for your notebook computer, which is a big bonus
for road warriors. While you can use other phones as modems for your
notebook with the sometimes hard to find data cable accessory, this
card is a much more turnkey solution.
Pro: High speed access for both your Pocket PC and
notebook PC. Very reliable data connections and speeds, with good
quality voice. Good national coverage of metro areas in the US. Software
on PPC and Windows is friendly and intuitive, and the Phone Book
integration with Pocket Outlook on the Pocket PC is very nice.
Con: You must use a headset if you want to use your
PDA or notebook for voice calls. You have to be in a PCS Vision coverage
area to use this card (it doesn't work over the regular digital network
at 14.4 as does the Verizon AirCard 555). No Mac Powerbook drivers.
I'd love to see bundled compression software for notebooks that enhances