A Boy’s Own GPRS Adventure

Time, I thought, for a new gadget and having upgraded my mobile phone to the tiny, GPRS capable Ericsson T39, I decided to see how well GPRS works. Could I really collect my email on the run or even use my phone as a high speed Infra-red modem for my Compaq IPAQ?

The best laid plans of mice and men, being about the same, I should have expected that making the technology work in practise, wouldn’t be as easy as asking Project Telecom, my Vodafone provider, to connect me to their GPRS network; obligingly bumping my existing call package up to the more expensive data tariff at the same time.

While WAP may be crap or at best, a complete waste of time, collecting email over the GSM network is of course OK. As a data transfer medium, it may be marginally better than stretching a piece of string between two tin cans but it works without a hitch on both my Palm and my IPAQ in some of the strangest places across the world. ‘Valley of The Kings’, no problem, deepest Kent? A bit iffy sometimes but the connection works in the end.

Of course the appeal of GPRS is the speed. GSM is horrendously slow and collecting a handful of emails can take several expensive minutes if I’m sitting in the departure lounge at some distant airport.

So here’s the story of my search for GPRS conenctivity.

Having requested the service, twenty-four hours later there was still no evidence it was actually working. More importantly, my phone’s instruction manual tells me that I need a network ID and a password to use for the GPRS network and if you can remember the pain of using your first WAP phone, what happened next will not be a new experience.

Eventually and quite possibly because I write this column, I managed to persuade Project Telecom to call me back with the settings for the phone. Having entered these, there was still no evidence that GPRS was working and it finally took a”re-boot” of the phone before the service was recognised.
The good news? I can select “Services”, “eMail”, “Send & Receive” and seconds later, the first six messages from my POP3 Inbox at Easynet, appear on my phone. Six messages are the limit on the Ericsson but it’s still instant gratification for this email junkie of sorts.

And it’s useful too. Taking my small daughter to the zoo today, I was able to read my mail while she attempted to release the wolves from their enclosure. I suspect I’m suffering from the worst form of email dependency.

Of course, a six-message limit isn’t really a stunning advantage, which is why I have a Pocket PC, a Compaq IPAQ. The technical support desk at the service provider, now emailed a detailed, six page guide to setting-up the Pocket PC (PPC) to use GPRS. I should add, at this point that I have at least four pocket PC’s and helped Microsoft solve a glitch with GSM access, when the PPC first came out, so you would think I could get my Compaq IPAQ to work with the Ericsson first time? Of course I couldn’t and many conversations later with the support desk, we were still no nearer understanding why the Pocket PC attempts to dial out and then drops out.

Rescue came in the form of Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and the answer, “*99# “ in the phone number field and not “99***1”, as suggested by Project Telecom. Moments later, my IPAQ is browsing the web and picking up my email almost as quickly, it seems, as my PC on the network. Better pass the answer back to Vodafone.
So score one for Microsoft and for GPRS. It works, it’s a little expensive but it solves my mobile connectivity problems. Next step then is to get the Blackberry PDA, I’ve been promised to work, so more fun and games to come perhaps?

So if you’re even thinking about GPRS over good old GSM, then watch this space!

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