Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Enjoying High-Speed Wireless Connectivity Anywhere

In the interest of providing other technology posts other than just JavaScript code snippets, I thought I'd summarize my experience using at&t's 3G+ network. More than basic 3G, I actually get to utilize their HSDPA network here in Tampa where I live.

What's the difference? Well, according to the Wikipedia sources I linked to above, the standard 3G allows the transmission of 384 kbit/s for mobile systems whereas current HSDPA deployments support down-link speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2 and 14.4 Mbit/s.

I recently acquired a Samsung A707 (aka Samsung Sync) which is a considerable improvement over my prior Motorola V180 -- though the V180 served me well as a basic phone, and even survived a fall into a river. I don't intend to review the A707 as there are plenty of other reviews out there (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), nor do I care to discuss the merits of one carrier's wireless technology over another's (ex HSDPA vs. EV-DO). All I want to talk about is my experience utilizing my phone to access the internet, particularly on my laptop and PocketPC through my phone, and what kind of performance I've seen.

Once I got the phone, I signed up for a MEdia Max bundle which gave me unlimited data on the phone. I plan on doing LOTS of data with the phone, so I can't have some sort of puny 1MB or 5MB limit.

To see what kind of bandwidth I could get on the cell phone, I pointed my Opera Mini browser to The Speed Test* and got results such as:

In the interest of full disclosure, that was one of the higher scores, however several other tests were in the same vicinity (ex. 2801.8kbps) so it could not be dismissed as an anomaly. The lower end of the scores were around 1913.5kbps. These are all respectable scores and inline with the statement that the initial HSDPA networks deployments support 3.6 Mbit/s peak with phase one deployments to eventually reach achieve peak data rates of 14.4 Mbit/s. Who says internet access on cell phones is slow!?

Now, it's all well and good that the phone can attain that high bandwidth and it certainly makes streaming videos off of YouTube or at&t's Cellular Video service to your cell phone work smoothly, but at some point, you just want a full size screen and keyboard for your internet access.

The A707 doesn't come with a USB cable, so I utilized its built-in Bluetooth. To me, the Bluetooth is actually nicer since I can leave myphone in my pocket or in my belt click and still connect your laptop to it. Plus, I can connect my laptop and PocketPC to it simultaneously which is nice too. However, it does drain the battery faster.

To use the phone for internet access via Bluetooth, you need to pair it to your laptop (or other Bluetooth enabled device). So, enable Bluetooth in the phone settings. I won't provide my own instructions for this as at&t has a nice tutorial online. Then you need to pair your phone and laptop together. Again, at&t provides vendor specific instructions for this. at&t has made a simple client called at&t Communication Manager which allows you to easily connect with the phone. Setup instructions are provided on the download page. The only thing I had to do special was manually select the GSM device (see Tools -> Settings... -> GSM -> Device Selection and select the Bluetooth Modem that was setup for me when I did the Bluetooth pairing). Once the Communication Manager finds your device, you simply click on the "Connect" button and you're in business.

My laptop is a few years old, so I believe it's built in Bluetooth is version 1, not version 2 which significantly limits it's bandwidth potential (see Wikipedia entry on Bluetooth). By accessing the internet via my cell phone via Bluetooth, I got speeds varying from around 274kbps to 347kbps.

These results are significantly reduced from the cell phone alone, though still tolerable for common internet tasks (reading email, viewing typical web pages, etc).

The results for my laptop are comparable to the results I saw on my Dell Axim x51v as well. I had to do a little more manual configuration to get the Axim connected to the internet through the phone, but once I got it working, I got results such as:

Just for comparison, the bandwidth I got at a local WiFi hotspot was around 1Mbps:

So the conclusion is that if WiFi is available, it's still the faster option (at least for me without a USB connection nor Bluetooth 2.0 speeds), but having the ability to have broadband speed internet access ANYWHERE I go (in the city) is certainly a convenience! And possibly it's more secure if you're in a public hotpost with packet sniffers lurking around.

I'd be interested to here if anyone has similar experience but using Bluetooth 2.0 instead. Is it faster? Is a USB connection faster?

*Note: I also verified my laptop speed results with which has a really nice interface. However, since it's Flash based, it doesn't run in the cell phone browser.

Update - December 19, 2007:

I have replaced my laptop and am now running Red Hat Enterprise Linux on my new one. Therefore, I could no longer use the at&t Communications Manager to make a connection. Fortunately, I found these instructions for How to use a Bluetooth phone as [a] modem in Linux which were very helpful.

1 comment:

scooby said...

Opera mini goes through Opera's proxies so you shouldn't use that to do a speed test of your cell phone.