Using T-Mobile for portable internet connection using a Mac laptop.
April 5, 2004 12:02 AM   Subscribe

Wanted: recommendations about using T-Mobile for portable internet connection using a Mac laptop. [more inside]

I've been with T-Mobile for about three years and have been pretty happy with the service. About a year ago, though, I looked at the mobile internet options available through them and decided that nothing there had either the speed or cost I was looking for.

Sprint offered PCS vision enabled phones for less than $50 per month for unlimited access, and while connecting your laptop was a violation of terms of service, if you did it carefully and didn't hog bandwidth, they seemed to look the other way. So I carried that service for about 8 months. The in-phone internet features were OK in a pinch, but I was getting up to 100k of transfer speed sometimes and generally good, reliable connectivity at home and travelling.

Eventually, though, I decided I didn't like other aspects of Sprint's service and I was probably paying too much. So I dropped it.

Recently I noted that T-Mobile has started to offer an "unlimited internet" plan you can add to any phone plan for $20/month. I'm considering signing up for this. Does anyone have information about its speed, reliability, and general utility for use with a laptop? I have a Nokia 5190, so I'll probably have to buy a new phone, too, and could use recommendations as far as that goes.
posted by weston to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My friend Dan Sanderson (MetaFilter's long-lost dan_of_brainlog) has recently been posting a variety of valuable information not only regarding T-Mobile, but also on using it in conjunction with his Mac laptop and his new Sony Ericsson T610.

Links: Overall, he seems quite happy with the setup.
posted by Danelope at 12:24 AM on April 5, 2004

I use a Bluetooth phone on T-Mobile to connect with OS X. There are some tricks to getting it set up properly, but once it's done, the connection is easy as clicking the modem icon in the menubar. Speed isn't so hot; normally I average around the same as if I were on a 56k connection. Sprint's internet speed is fantastic but there are several stories of people having their net access cut off (or getting $500 bills) for overuse. Sprint will not define how much is too much. The T-Mobile $19.99/month is no-holds-barred, all-you-can-eat internet.

As for phones, I have a Sony Ericsson P800, hub has a T610, and we're both happy with them. Having a Bluetooth connection rocks. I'd highly recommend you go Bluetooth over wired.
posted by Addlepated at 1:29 AM on April 5, 2004

Response by poster: Anyone have experiences with the Danger Sidekick? Again, I'm mostly interested in using whatever I get with a laptop, but additional mobile features might be interesting (whether or not it's $200 interesting I'm still trying to decide).

Speed isn't so hot; normally I average around the same as if I were on a 56k connection. Sprint's internet speed is fantastic but there are several stories of people having their net access cut off (or getting $500 bills) for overuse.

Yeah, that was another reason I cut Sprint off... seeing as how they could cut me off or bill me extra at any moment, and seeing as how their customer service department was rarely helpful, it seemed like less and less of a good gamble over time.

56k is OK, though I was hoping for more.
posted by weston at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2004

Actually I thought the max throughput of the GPRS t-mobile connection was only 20kbps, which is about what my t68i working along with my mac feels like. Email is fine, browsing is pretty slow, but it's great to have a connection anywhere and is useful enough for getting work done and catching up with email.

You'll need a phone with bluetooth to make it easy on yourself, and danger hiptops don't have that.
posted by mathowie at 9:10 AM on April 5, 2004

I've read that the Sidekick has terrible reception issues. Seems to me that there have been some discussions on Howard Forums about it.

GPRS should theoretically have the same speed as a 56k modem. Here's a page where people compare their real-world speeds. The T-Mo people are getting from around 25-50kbps. I have probably mis-capitalized that because I never did learn the difference.

Also wanted to mention with Sprint, I would drop my connection every 10 minutes. Not exaggerating. With T-Mo, I routinely stay connected for 4 hours at a time. So the throughput evens out a little bit when you add in time spent reconnecting.
posted by Addlepated at 11:17 AM on April 5, 2004

I've been using my T68i as a bluetooth modem for more than a year in the States and in Europe. It's extremely handy, even if it is slow as cold molasses. At first I paid for their internet data service, but found their gateway(s) (i.e., APN: to be unreliable. It's easier for me to just dial my local 56k account. It's slow (28.8 kbps max), but since it only uses minutes the price is right.

It's fast enough to check email over pine or do some emergency web browsing. If I have anything more extensive to do I can wait until after 9 p.m. or anytime on the weekends and let it chug for a couple hours.

I can't wait until the 3G network roll out. Anybody know anything about that? I've heard that you can get 1+ Mbit connections via your cell phone in Japan. That would be sweet.

Under Mac OS 10.3, the set-up is easy. Just choose "Set up Bluetooth Device..." in the Bluetooth menu, add your Mobile Phone, and make sure to choose "Use for data connection" or the similar option.
posted by maniactown at 11:21 AM on April 5, 2004

The Sidekick has terrible, horrible, attrocious reception. Dropped calls are frequent. It is a great data device, though.
posted by benjh at 12:11 PM on April 5, 2004

Response by poster: Also wanted to mention with Sprint, I would drop my connection every 10 minutes. Not exaggerating.

I had that problem as well, until I just started setting up a ping to some server or another whenever I made a connection. Usually I'd set it to be 2-3 bytes rather than 56, to keep bandwidth usage low.

But it sounds like the Ericssons are the way to go with T-Mo...
posted by weston at 12:58 PM on April 5, 2004

I used to have a Sidekick. Worst hardware QA of any device I've ever used, ever. Horrible. I now have a Blackberry 7230. It doesn't have Bluetooth either (and doesn't play well with Macs at all -- no syncing for Mac OS X).

T-Mobile has pretty good customer service. Not steller, but solid.
posted by zpousman at 12:59 PM on April 5, 2004

Yes, the reception on the Sidekick can be frustrating at times, especially if you're using it indoors. If you're mainly looking for portable AIM and email though, it works really well. Feel free to email me if you have more sidekick questions.
posted by gluechunk at 3:07 PM on April 5, 2004

I abandoned use of my Sidekick after about two months because of the awkwardness of using it as a phone. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the second incarnation in hopes that it will resolve all the issues I had with it. (Poor reception, you look like a lunatic holding a brick sized device up to your face)

So for about 7 months now I've been using my t68i (and OSX) for a data connection on my lunch breaks at work. I know it's slow, but for some reason it feels a lot faster than it is. Maybe it's just the sheer coolness of having an internet connection wherever I happen to be...

As an aside, I've got a Merlin G100 GPRS card that I'm willing to get rid of for the cost of shipping. E-mail me if you're interested.
posted by esch at 6:42 PM on April 5, 2004

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