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Accessing the Internet Using your PDA
updated Sept. 2003

Note that this article covers wireless solutions, both WAN (wide area networking) and LAN (local area networking). It doesn't cover using a 56k dialup modem over a land line (that's the phone cord that plugs into the wall). There are several solutions for dialup, including Palm's modem for many PalmOne brand PDAs, CF modem cards for Pocket PCs (and the Sony Clié NX & NZ PDAs using special drivers) and external modems that connect to your PDA using Bluetooth or IR (see the ENR Tech IR and Bluetooth modem reviews).

There are many ways to connect to the Internet for web browsing and email. There are two kinds of solutions:

1) Wide area networking (WAN), which means accessing the Internet from most anywhere in the metropolitan US by connecting to cellular or pager networks and paying the provider a fee for either time spent online or the amount of data downloaded.

2) Local area networking (LAN) which allows you to connect to the Internet only when you're in range of an access point (typical range of 300 feet). The most common wireless LAN solution is WiFi 802.11b, though there are also Bluetooth access points which are generally used in work or home environments and not public locations. WiFi connections are free if you're connecting to your own access point at home or one at work, and are available for nominal fees from Starbucks, McDonalds and other venues. Some venues and individuals also provide free public access via WiFi.

If you're interested in WiFi, read our WiFi 802.11b article.
If you're interested in Bluetooth networking, read our Bluetooth primer and review article.
This article focuses on wide area networking solutions using mobile phone networks.

SmartPhones

These are devices that are both PDAs and mobile phones rolled into one. Some run Palm OS, others run Pocket PC Phone Edition, and there are some that run Symbian OS as well. You'll have Internet access anywhere a digital mobile phone connection is available, and you can also use the device as your mobile phone. When accessing the Internet with CDMA providers like Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, you'll generally pay for the amount of time you spend online (minutes used on your plan). With GSM/GPRS providers like AT&T Wireless, Cingular and T-Mobile, you usually don't pay for connection time but rather for the amount of data you download. Voice calls are billed in the manner you're likely already accustomed to when using a traditional mobile phone for calls.

Most of these devices use either GPRS or CDMA2000 (1xRTT) connections for data:

GPRS, a high speed data service that averages 45k transfer speeds, is offered by GSM carriers, and it's widely available in Europe and parts of Asia, which have been GSM areas for quite some time. It' also now widely available in the US from carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Cingular, though their GPRS coverage is mostly in metropolitan regions. If you use a GPRS provider, you generally pay for the amount of data you download rather than time spent online.

CDMA2000 (also called 2.5g and 1xRTT) runs on the current CDMA network that drives most cellular services in the US, parts of Canada and Mexico. Verizon and Sprint already have most all cities online and the data transfer rates range from 50k to 70k.

Visit our page of SmartPhone Reviews to learn more.

Using your Mobile Phone as a Modem for your PDA

Most recent model mobile phones made in the past year can act as a modem for your PDA. Using your mobile phone requires the least up-front money to get online most anywhere with your PDA. Depending on your cellular provider's services, you can either connect to your cellular provider or your home dialup ISP using your phone and IR (if your phone has IR) or a cable made to connect your model phone to your model PDA. These cables cost from $30 to $70 dollars. www.thesupplynet.com is one of the biggest suppliers of these cables and supports most all popular phones and PDAs including Palm, Handspring, Clie, Pocket PCs and Psions. www.gomadic.com is another vendor that sells these cables.

Socket Digital Phone Card for Pocket PCs

An alternative to these cables that won't cost much more is the Socket Digital Phone Card for Pocket PCs. It's a CompactFlash card with a permanently attached cable whose connector fits your phone. It's available for several popular phones such as the Motorola v120, v60, 270, and many Audiovox, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung phones.

We tested the Digital Phone Card with an iPAQ and Motorola v120c and v60c phones on a CDMA network and it worked like a charm. Setup is simple and the driver is easy to use.

Why is this a better solution than the cable? It will work with any Pocket PC that has a CF slot. This means if you upgrade to a new Pocket PC, you won't have to buy a new cable. The software and driver make using your phone as a modem on the Pocket PC easy. It's turn-key, works with any Pocket PC and it's reasonably priced at $99. You can also get an upgrade kit that allows you to use the CF card with your notebook PC which will save you some money if you're a road warrior who uses both a notebook and PDA while traveling.

Socket Phone Card

Bluetooth and Your Mobile Phone

If your phone and PDA have Bluetooth, you can get them talking to each other via Bluetooth, and use your phone as a modem. You'll need a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone (no so common in the US, common in much of Europe and Asia). GSM carriers offer a better selection of Bluetooth enabled mobile phones that do CDMA providers. Using Bluetooth, you won't need a cable since Bluetooth is a wireless technology referred to as a PAN (personal area networking) when used to connect devices that are in a 30-foot range of each other together wirelessly. You can connect the phone to any Palm brand PDA that runs OS 4 and has an SD slot using the optional Palm Bluetooth SD card. The Palm Tungsten T and T2 have built-in Bluetooth, as do the Sony Clié TG50, NZ90 and UX40/UX50. You can also connect to the many iPAQ models which have built-in Bluetooth, or buy a Bluetooth CompactFlash card for Pocket PCs.

Read our Bluetooth article and reviews here.

Wireless Cards offered by Mobile Phone Providers

These cards work with Pocket PCs, but not Palm OS PDAs. They run on your mobile phone provider's network, and are available from a variety of carriers. Most are PCMCIA cards, which means using an iPAQ 3000 or 5000 series Pocket PC with a PCMCIA card expansion sleeve, since these iPAQs are the only Pocket PC that can use PCMCIA cards. If you own the now discontinued Jornada 560 and the PC Card sled, you can also use these cards. Note that you must choose a card that comes with Pocket PC drivers! The most popular cards include the following:

Sprint 2031 CF Wireless Card for Pocket PCs and notebooks
For more info on this CF type II card, read our complete review here. This card works with both Pocket PCs and notebook PCs. It uses Sprint's Vision Network and offers 1xRTT (2.5g) connections to the Net anywhere Sprint has coverage. This is a wide area solution, which means you don't have to be near a WiFi access point and etc.

Our Review of the Sprint 2031 CF Card

Sierra Wireless AirCard solutions
Sierra Wireless makes a variety of AirCards, which are wireless PCMCIA Cards that connect to variety of cellular services in the US. If you use a PDA that can use PC Cards (e.g.: iPAQ w/sleeve, Jornada 560 series plus PC Card sled), this can be a great solution, especially with the high speed cards and networks coming on line. You can buy these cards directly from Sierra Wireless and other retailers, but generally, you'll buy the card from your cellular provider along with a "calling" plan, just as you'd buy a cell phone. The cost of the cards range from $299 to $399.

There are AirCards for Verizon, Sprint and other CDMA network cellular providers, as well as GSM/GPRS providers. These run on the newer high speed networks (CDMA2000 or GPRS) and offer speeds between 40k to 70K. I've been using an iPAQ with the AirCard 555 for CDMA2000 high speed networks with Verizon as the provider and this has been an awesome solution! The transfer rate is faster than a 56k modem, the connect to network time is fast and reliable. Using this card, the iPAQ also doubles as a cell phone, though you can only use it with a headset.

www.sierrawireless.com

Our Review of the AirCard 555

 

Palm.net Wireless service for Palm VII and i705

PalmOne has moved on to the Tungsten W, which uses AT&T's GSM/GPRS network, but the Palm.net service is still available for users of the now discontinued Palm VII and i705. Palm.net is the one of the easiest services to use since the wireless service is highly integrated into the operating system. Web access is provided by Web Clipping Apps which reduce the byte transfer and thus improve speed making the 9.6k service much more usable than you'd think. The service is available for the now discontinued Palm VII and the Palm i705, both of which have a built-in wireless radio and antenna.

Your Palm VII and i705 can access e-mail, and many web sites that have provided little doorways to their sites in the form of a Web Clipping Application (WCA) also known as a PQA (Palm Query Application). Yahoo, E*Trade, ESPN.com, USA Today and many, many other companies have issued PQAs, which you can find on the CD that comes with your Palm, and on palm.net's web site. Palm.net provides you with a wireless access account, and you can choose from 2 price plans ranging from $20 for 100k of data transfer/month to $40/month for 1 meg of data transfer per month ($35 if you're willing to sign up for a year). Because PQAs are specialized apps that pull optimized content from web sites, the amount of data transferred is quite small, so your charges may not be that high. A web page generally equals a 1 to 3 K file-- that's pretty small. So what's the catch? You can't do traditional web browsing with this service and things like frames, javascript and SSL aren't supported. This means some sites may not work. The majority of sites do work however. Palm.net used to offer an unlimited plan for $40/month, but sadly that's been replaced with the $40 for 1 meg plan for 2003.

Palm.net service, when used with the i705, is the only service (other than BlackBerry devices) to offer always connected instant access. It can notify you of incoming mail and AOL instant messenger messages. The older Palm VII does not have this capability.

www.palm.net

 

 

 

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