How can I connect to the internet on my laptop via my cell phone?
January 13, 2009 12:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I connect to the internet on my laptop via a TMobile cell phone?

I am trying to get online at my new apartment. No DSL or cable, so trying to figure out how to connect to the internet on my Powerbook G4 via a cell phone. My current cell phone won't work (no data or usb support), but it gets great signal.

I am using TMobile via Flexpay with no contract. I have spoke with numerous reps and everyone tells me something totally different. The most recent guy in the Modem Support Department has told me that if I get a new-ish Blackberry (he suggested the Pearl since I'm strapped), and a USB cable, and the appropriate drivers, I can connect to the internet on my laptop via the cell phone at home. He said it would be $25 extra a month.

However, a TMobile Sales guy told me that Blackberries can't be used in this way. **NOTE: I do NOT care about texting, email, or sending funny photos of my dog via the cell phone.** I want to be able to call people on the phone, and somehow also use it to magically do my online work at home as well. The Sales guy said I needed a USB-enabled phone with a class 10 browser. The Modem Support guy said he didn't know what the Sales guy was talking about.

Finally, a TMobile lady told me that I just need a data-enabled phone and it would be $20 a month.

Can anyone tell me how YOU are making internet via your TMobile cell phone happen? Bonus points if you can say so for an inexpensive Blackberry (i.e., the Pearl) and/or a Mac in particular. I don't want to order a Blackberry off Ebay only to have the next rep tell me that it won't work. And how much are you paying for this mysteriously priced service?

Thank you for helping me sort the wheat from the chap, Mefites.
posted by letahl to Technology (14 answers total)
It sounds like you need a data card. T-Mobile sells one:

And I found OS X Drivers for it here:

I don't know how this would work plan wise, I see a $50 a month plan on the page for the card.
posted by gog at 12:19 PM on January 13, 2009

Data card is a different issue. You have to take the Sim card out of your cell phone and put it in the card, or get a separate service. Pricey. I am looking to connect via the phone, if possible. Anyone out there doing this?
posted by letahl at 12:20 PM on January 13, 2009

Yes you can do this and I believe it is t-mobile supported. I do it using my Pearl. I normally do it via Bluetooth but you can use the USB cable too. It costs $20 a month-the standard BB unlimited data plan. Google for Pearl and tethered modem for instructions to do so. (I'm writing this from my Pearl otherwise I'd send you the URL I have bookmarked.)
This assumes you can get an EDGE connection wherever you are based.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:23 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The phase you're looking for is "tethering". This page is from 2007 but lists phones (including various flavors of Blackberries) that'll work, no Mac info however.
posted by llin at 12:27 PM on January 13, 2009

How is the connection speed using this method? It will be my primary form of connection and I'm self-employed. I don't need Youtube to be awesome, but I don't want to be folding socks while I try to research either.
posted by letahl at 12:37 PM on January 13, 2009

I have done this with my blackberry pearl when I'm somewhere with no wifi. It is $20 a month to have my browser enabled on my phone as part of the plan that I have, I think it depends on the type of plan you have. Here is a link for the instructions I used to get it set up.
They may have more info over there for you.
It works fine as a modem but it is slow, I think I read that it is basically a dial up line rather than a high speed thing. My cousin uses it as her only modem but she comes over to my house and hooks up to my wifi if she has to download anything.
If you know someone with this type of phone maybe you could see if they'll let you try it and see if it will work for what you want it for.
The link to the forums above has proved pretty useful when I've had questions about my blackberry.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:41 PM on January 13, 2009

If it's not 3G, and it won't be with a Pearl, it's Pretty Fucking Bad. We're talking 50kbps-200kbps, so slightly-if-you're-lucky faster than 56K, but slower than shitty DSL.

T-Mobile does offer 3G, but I'm not sure which phones other than the Android/G1 does it.
posted by disillusioned at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2009

My plan is with T-mobile so it definitely works through them.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:45 PM on January 13, 2009

Well is anyone using the TMobile data card for $50 a month that gog suggested? Any faster?
posted by letahl at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2009

If you are willing to go $50 a month for the data card, then i suggest you spring for an extra $10 and get the Verizon USB dongle. I have one of these and it's great. If you supply your own hardware (i.e. buy a used one from eBay), they will set you up without a contract ($35 activation though). It can be made to work with a Mac or better yet, you can get a Kyocera KR1 router for $50 off eBay and turn it into WiFi.
posted by kindall at 3:19 PM on January 13, 2009

I'm actually posting this via a T-Mobile cell phone right now.

If you're using a Mac, you probably do not want to get a Blackberry. I spent a while looking into it a few months ago (probably close to a year) and they just are not as easy to tether as more "commodity" cell phones are. Plus, you need to get a BIS plan, which is different from a standard data/smartphone plan. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's not the route I decided to go, because it just looked like a huge pain in the ass.

(If you are interested I have a breakdown of which models are reported to work as tethered access devices with OS X on my blog. This information may not be current anymore, and I never personally tested any of it, but it might be a decent starting point. Bottom line seems to be that the 88xx series are okay, but many older models -- which tend to be the inexpensive ones -- are not, or require special software. USB tethering seems to be much harder than Bluetooth, which is unfortunate.)

Anyway, I decided not to go the BB route and got a Nokia E61i instead. Not terribly cheap, but I like it a lot and it does a great job acting as a tethered access device. I generally use the JoikuSpot WiFi accesspoint software with it, which uses the phones built-in wifi system to act as an accesspoint for computers around it. I've found it to be significantly more reliable than Bluetooth. Sometimes when I'm worried about batteries I've used the USB cable, but only on my PC so far.

The speed is not spectacular -- the E61i doesn't do 3G here in the US, only EDGE -- but it's more than good enough for web browsing, email, IM, even lightweight applications through my work VPN. I suspect it would even do VOIP if I wanted it to.

Before I had the Nokia I used Motorola phones, and they seemed to play pretty nicely with my Macs as well, but I went with the Nokia for QWERTY and Symbian.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:00 PM on January 13, 2009

Make sure you really do have a data plan - T-Mobile charges about 4000 EUR/gigabyte (yes, four thousand euros per gigabyte) on some tariffs if you don't.
posted by devnull at 1:49 AM on January 14, 2009

I think ya'll are right that the BB is a pain in the butt, because then once you stop needing internet you still have to pay for some special service to get calls. So I ordered the Nokia 5310, and will maybe, hopefully, possibly, be able to use it as a "tethered access device" (wow, I'm learning all sorts of new things). I will check out the JokiuSpot WiFi Software, because that'd be plain cool.
posted by letahl at 10:11 AM on January 14, 2009

Update: It's working f'in fabulously via the Nokia 5310 and my mac. They talk to eachother via Bluetooth. It's not fast enough to do anything with media, but for browsing, email, and even research its just fine for hours on end. And its $20 a month for unlimited data and time.

Sometimes I get calls when I'm online and sometimes it doesn't ring and just lets me know there's voicemail, so that's a little quirky, but I'm happy.
posted by letahl at 1:57 PM on January 23, 2009

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