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Always on

Learn how you can connect your laptop to the Internet via your mobile phone

Anish Gangar | August 28, 2003 15:02 IST

Ajay Gupta is always traveling. An executive with an MNC, he needs frequent access to data and messages. He also wishes to stay in touch with his offices across the world. Making long-distance calls from his mobile phone is expensive. Besides, phone calls do not give access to documents.

For people like Ajay, a cheap and effective option is to use their mobile handsets to surf the Net directly or put their laptops online. Most mobile phone companies in India already offer services that can make this possible. Using these services Ajay can access the company's intranet and email account too. So now, whether he is commuting to work or attending a conference, he is always connected.

Mobile phones come in two flavours and so do Internet access services...

  1. GPRS on cell phones: Companies like Hutch/Orange and BPL, which provide cell, or GSM, phone services use 'general packet radio services' or GPRS to enable Internet access.
  2. CDMA on WLL phones: Companies like Reliance, which offer limited mobility, or WLL, services use 'code division multiple access' to enable Internet access.

Here's a handy guide to getting started with both GPRS and CDMA…

GPRS (General Packet Radio Services)

With GPRS, you don't have to dial up to get online. Your cell phone is always connected to the Internet.

How to get the always-on connection:

  1. A cell phone with GPRS capability is essential. Click here to find out if your cell phone supports GPRS. Or here is a list of GPRS enabled Nokia handsets.
  2. Your cell pone service provider should offer a GPRS service. Most do. For instance, in Mumbai, Airtel, Orange and BPL offer GPRS. BPL and Airtel provide GPRS only to post-paid users but Orange serves prepaid users too.
  3. There are two kinds of GPRS services.
    1. WAP over GPRS: This service lets you receive and send MMS (multimedia messages) and also surf a limited number of Web sites on the cell phone itself. Some service providers restrict the surfing to WAP sites or sites designed specifically for mobile phones. With this kind of service you will not be able to put your laptop or any other Net device online.
    2. Full-blown GPRS: This includes everything the other GPRS service has to offer plus the ability to put your laptop or any Net device online.
  4. Once you have subscribed to a GPRS service, you will need to activate it on your handset. In most cases the service provider's customer service staff will do this for you by sending you a 'settings file' as an SMS or by configuring your phone manually at your place or at their gallery.
  5. Now that you are ready to go, you will need some way to extend the Internet connectivity to your laptop.
    1. Data cable: This cable links your phone to the laptop just like you would hook a modem to a computer. The cost of the cable will depend of the model and manufacturer of the phone. For instance, Nokia's cable can set you back between Rs 1,200 and Rs 3,500.
    2. Infrared link: If both your phone and laptop have infrared ports, then you don't need the cables. The moment the ports face each other, they will establish a connection.
    3. Bluetooth: This is another wireless technology that can do away with the need to have cables. Again, both, the laptop and the phone should be Bluetooth enabled.

What will it cost?

Unlike a dialup connection, you do not have to pay for the length of time that you are online. Cell operators charge a one-time activation fee and monthly rental for using this service. Some only charge rentals. So no matter how much you surf, you need not worry about your cell phone bills.

BPL charges Rs 750 per month for a full-blown GPRS service. It also bundles in 500 MMS messages free and charges Rs 3 for every MMS message thereafter.

Airtel charges Rs 600 per month, inclusive of MMS.

Orange offers full-blown GPRS for a one-time activation fee of Rs 99 plus Rs 499 as rent per month. If you just need WAP over GPRS it costs Rs 99 per month.

All these operators provide 24x7 access to the Internet at these prices.

How fast is a GPRS connection?

The speed of these connections is not really outstanding. Currently it ranges anywhere between 10 and 15 kbps. But if you are on the move and just want to check or reply to email, this should be enough.

The future:

People are betting on the success of EDGE or 'enhanced data rates for global evolution'. It is a digital mobile phone technology, more advanced than GPRS. Currently under development, it promises much higher speeds with wireless devices. Streaming audio and video, MMS, downloads and video conferencing on your cell phone will become a reality with EDGE.

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)

Commercially introduced in 1995 by Qualcomm, CDMA quickly became one of the world's fastest growing wireless technologies. 3G CDMA networks provide more capacity for voice traffic, along with high-speed data capabilities. Many cellular service providers are now building or upgrading to it.

How to get it:

  1. Reliance India Mobile is the most popular mobile service provider that offers CDMA for Internet access. If you are using a WLL phone, you already have a CDMA handset.
  2. Now you need a method to extend your Internet access from your CDMA mobile phone to your laptop. Yes. Again, you need a cable. Reliance Webworld outlets sell these data cables. They cost about Rs 1,200 and come in two types: USB and COM port. If you have a USB port in your laptop, then it is better to use it. USB offers better connectivity. Buy the data cable according to the make and model of your phone. For example, LG and Samsung phones require different data cables. The Reliance site will help you troubleshoot com port and USB problems.
  3. You will also need some dialler software to make the phone connect to the Internet service. The dialler software is usually on a CD that accompanies the data cable. The software supports both Windows and Linux OS.
  4. Before using the Reliance service to connect to the Internet you are required to activate it. You will have to dial *412. After few seconds you will receive an SMS that your 'R-Connect' service has been activated. This FAQ should answer further question on the R-Connect service.
  5. According to Reliance's customer service, a fully charged battery will allow up to three hours of surfing. If you are not on the move, you can connect to the Net and charge the battery at the same time.

What will it cost?

As an introductory offer, there are no signup charges. Reliance charges a flat rate of 40 paise per minute. This charge is not covered by the free talk time minutes in your billing plan.

But you are charged only for the time actual data transfer is happening, not for all the time you are online. Also, when your connection is dormant, you can even receive and make phone calls.

How fast is a CDMA connection?

Though Reliance claims it provides 144 kbps, consumer experience reports that it is like a dialup connection or slower.

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