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BlackBerry Hacks by Dave Mabe

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Hack #9. Use Your BlackBerry as a Modem

When you're in a bind, tether your laptop to your BlackBerry and connect at modem speeds.

Imagine you are in a remote location, far, far away from the nearest WiFi hotspot or Ethernet connection. You have a deadline and you have to send a proposal from your laptop as soon as possible. Sure, you could print out the proposal and fax it, but where is the fun in that? The BlackBerry 7290 and 7100 come with a built-in modem that can be accessed through the USB cable. It won't connect at EDGE or EV-DO speeds (yet!), but this hack can come in handy in certain situations.

The technique of using a mobile phone's data connection [Hack #1] is commonly known as "tethering." Normally this is done through a wireless Bluetooth connection on a mobile phone. Despite the Bluetooth capability on recent models, the modem on the BlackBerry can, unfortunately, only be accessed through the USB cable.

Set Up a Dial-up Connection

You'll need to set up a dial-up connection on your Windows machine to use the BlackBerry modem. When you installed the BlackBerry Desktop Manager, it should have automatically installed the modem drivers to use with your device, and you should have a modem called "Standard Modem" in the Phone and Modem Options section of your Control Panel. The drivers are located in the following folder: C:\Program Files\Common Files\Research In Motion\Modem Drivers. Use the following steps to set up your connection:

  1. Connect your BlackBerry to your computer using the standard USB cable that came with your device and start the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software.

  2. Go to the Control Panel, then Network Connections, and select Create a New Connection.

  3. Select Connect to the Internet, then Set up my connection manually, then Connect using a dial-up modem, and select your BlackBerry modem from the device list.

  4. Choose a descriptive name for the ISP Name (e.g., BlackBerry Modem Connection).

  5. Enter the phone number for your service provider. You'll probably have to check with your carrier to get the right number. For Cingular and other GSM carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile), it's *99#. For CDMA providers (Sprint, Verizon), the number will be #777.

  6. The username and password will vary by carrier as well. Cingular just accepts null values for both fields.

  7. Complete the wizard, being sure to deselect the "Make this the default connection" checkbox.

Set Up Your BlackBerry Modem

If you have CDMA service, you can skip this step. If you have GSM service for your BlackBerry, you will need to add an extra init string for the modem to use when it connects. This string is specific to each provider, so you'll have to contact your provider for the proper setting. Go to the Modems tab in Phone and Modem Options in Control Panel. Find the "Standard Modem" that was installed with your BlackBerry Desktop Manager installation and double-click it.

On the Advanced tab (see Figure 1-23), you'll need to enter an extra initialization command that is specific to your carrier. Enter +cgdcont=1,"IP","APN" where APN is your carrier's access point name.

Warning

The APN, or Access Point Name, is the name of the network to which a GPRS device connects. Check with your provider to get the value that should be used for your service. There is also a fairly comprehensive list of APNs by carrier at the following URL: http://www.opera.com/products/mobile/docs/connect/.

Entering the extra init commands with the APN specific to your provider

Figure 1-23. Entering the extra init commands with the APN specific to your provider

Establish the Connection

You should be able to use the new dial-up connection in Network Connections to establish an Internet connection. You can right-click on your new connection and choose Connect. Click Dial without entering a username or password. If all goes well, you will have an active wireless Internet connection!

The data connection that you get from your carrier typically provides access for the most popular Internet protocols (HTTP, HTTPS, POP3, IMAP, SMTP, etc.). Access to anything beyond those major protocols may or may not be allowed. Your mileage will vary widely.

Connection Speeds

Figure 1-24 shows a recent connection I've made on a Windows XP machine.

Connection statistics for your BlackBerry modem

Figure 1-24. Connection statistics for your BlackBerry modem

You'll notice that Windows shows that I connected at 115 Kbps—that's pretty fast for a GPRS connection, right? Actually, the value you'll see for the connection speed is a little misleading. It's referring to the connection speed between your laptop and the phone. The actual throughput you'll experience is capped at 40 Kbps for GSM networks and roughly 143 Kbps for CDMA networks. To get a reasonable estimate of the realized bandwidth on your GPRS connection, you can use the Mobile Speed Test, available at http://text.dslreports.com/mspeed.

Warning

Pay attention to the details of your data plan, especially when using this hack. As you can imagine, you can consume a good portion of your monthly data allotment using your BlackBerry as a modem. Of course, if you have an unlimited data plan, there's really nothing to worry about (unless you are paying for roaming).

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