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Internet for the Road Warrior

by Drew Dunn

A few months ago, things went terribly wrong with my DSL service and I found myself suffering for a week with no Internet.  At first, it wasn't really a big problem - it was more like a vacation.  No obnoxious spam, no pop up messages, no interruptions to my work with instant messages...but then it became a chore.  Suddenly I couldn't do research, quick answers to simple problems were difficult and hard questions went unanswered.  It didn't take to long to discover that I depended on the Internet for a LOT!

So, I did some quick research and made a few phone calls.  After that, a brief visit to my local office supply store got me up and running on the Internet, albeit at a slower pace than before.  But, in a pinch, slow is better than none!  And it didn't take too long to realize that this was a great solution to the road warrior lurking inside me.

I've got a cell phone and you probably do too.  I've also got a notebook computer and if you've got one, then you're two thirds of the way to being a road warrior, too...maybe.  Other than cameras, the latest and greatest accessory that new cell phones sport is Internet access.  In the US, there are three different kinds of digital data access: WAP, GPRS and EDGE.  What you have depends on your phone and your cell provider.  WAP, or Wireless Application Protocol is the oldest and slowest.  GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service, comes in a couple of different flavors and has speeds ranging from close to dialup to around ISDN.  EDGE, or Enhanced Data GSM Environment, is the latest data access method and can exceed ISDN speeds.

You'll have to contact your wireless provider to find out what sort of data access they provide and how it is billed.  The latter is most important - if your provider bills by the kilobyte, data service can quickly become extremely expensive!

After you've determined how your cell phone connects to the Internet, you'll have to connect it to your computer.  As of this writing, there are three ways to do it: wireless via Bluetooth, wireless via infrared and wired with a cable.  Friends, you can save yourself a lot of hassles and grief if your phone uses Bluetooth, and that's what we're going to talk about in this article.  If you don't have Bluetooth, what follows will still apply, but some of the details will have to be wrestled with to make them fit your specific connection situation.

So - you've got a Bluetooth phone.  You've got a notebook computer.  Your phone talks to the Internet.  Does your notebook talk to your phone?  If the computer has a built in Bluetooth radio, then you're in luck!  If not, you're still in luck, because a Bluetooth adapter that plugs into your USB port is cheap, cheap, cheap!  Head on down to your computer store of choice and grab one.  I use a Belkin F8T001, but only because that's what was in stock at the time.

Windows XP supports Bluetooth natively.  Just plug in the adapter and the operating system will detect it.  Once detected, you need to "pair" the notebook and your cell phone.  The exact method of doing this varies depending upon the hardware that you have.  For my Motorola V551, one of the configuration operations is to make the phone "discoverable" so that another Bluetooth device can find it.  The Windows XP Bluetooth wizard will step you through the process of pairing the devices once your phone is discoverable.

Now one thing to remember is that Bluetooth supports one and only one connection at a time.  So if you use a Bluetooth headset with your phone or a Bluetooth printer, mouse or anything else with your computer, once the phone and the computer are connected, they won't talk to anything else over Bluetooth until you disconnect them.  I only say this so that you aren't surprised when your headset doesn't work or your printer won't print.

So - you've connected your phone and your computer.  Now what?  It depends on the phone.  Some phones act as a network device.  When you're connected to the phone, you've got a live connection to the Internet.  Mine, however, does not do that.  Instead, it appears as a modem to the computer.  And that means creating a dial-up connection.  I use Cingular service.  If you don't, then you'll have to contact your wireless provider to find out the details of connecting to the Internet, specifically, the number to dial, the username and the password.  But here's what you'll need to do regardless of your provider:

Create a dial-up connection and select the device that most closely resembles a Bluetooth modem from the list of options that is presented (in my case, it is "Standard Modem over Bluetooth link").  In the modem properties, set the data rate to 460,800bps.  For Cingular and for Cingular only, the number to dial is *99***1#.  The username is and the password is CINGULAR1 (all capital letters).  If you don't use Cingular, the last sentence most definitely does not apply to you.

Try it out - you'll see a few status windows, then you'll be connected.  The most common problem that you'll find is that the computer complains that the phone is already in use.  If that's the case, just cycle the power on the phone and it should work.  Number two?  No service.  You've got to have a cell signal for data service to work.

Also, if you've got a PDA, either a Palm or Windows based, most of this quick guide applies to you, too.  Only the details are different - you can surf in a very portable way with a handheld device!

Once you're connected, surf away.  It's not the fastest way to connect to the Internet, but if you're on the road and away from a WiFi hotspot or if your dependable Internet service suddenly becomes undependable, this is the next best thing - and a lot better than nothing at all!


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