Faster Ways to Access the Internet Using Your Smart Phone
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
If you have a cell phone, chances are you are part of the growing group of consumers who want to use it to access the internet.
Q- “What are my different options for getting on the internet using my smart phone?”
Chas K. Portland, OR.
A- I like this question because many people think they’re all accessing the internet the same way, and they’re not. There are many different kinds of technologies and different cell phone companies that take advantage of each one.
Kbs= Kilobits or thousands of bits per second transfer rate. (Dial up is 56Kbs)
Mbs= Megabits or millions of bits per second transfer rate. (Comcast averages 8 Mbs)
Let’s do a rundown of each way your smart phone can access the internet using a built-in web browser:
GPRS- This is truly “old school” technology. If you have this type of phone then you need to recycle it. I had a phone that used this and I cried every time I tried to get on the internet with it. It averaged 43Kbs, and that’s slower than dialup. My blood pressure, however, went much higher than that. No current provider will sell you this service, but you may have a grandfathered plan that still uses it.
Edge- The Edge network has been around since 2003. Although technically Edge is a subset of 3G technology, it’s not presented that way by the cell phone companies. The speed is also published at different rates that vary by vendor, but you can expect between 70-200Kbs. This is a little faster than dialup speed. In other words: it’s painful to use but usually won’t cause heart attack or stroke. You will automatically switch to Edge when 3G is not available.
3G- This is the current standard for cell phone internet access. Most major carriers use the 3G standard and you can expect speeds of around 1.5Mbs per second. This makes the internet quite useable. If you want to test your speed, go to http://i.dslr.net/iphone_speedtest.html . My iPhone tested on 3G at 684Kbs. It’s faster if you’re outdoors, the wind is blowing right, and you have the right cologne and silk clothes on. (The test will work for all smart phones, so don’t be scared off just because it says iPhone in the URL.)
Wi-Fi 802.11 A, B, G, and N- This is by far the fastest way to access the internet but, unlike the other technologies, you have to be near a wireless access point to use it. If your phone uses 802.11 G, for instance, you should be able to communicate with it at around 30 Mbs. If your wireless access point is not connected to the internet at that speed, it will be less. A big advantage to Wi-Fi is that you don’t have to pay anything extra for this service since it’s your own internet connection (or your neighbor's) that you’re using, and not the phone company’s. You can also connect to public Wi-Fi or paid services like those at coffee houses and hotels. The only disadvantage to Wi-Fi is that when you walk more than 30 feet away from the access point, you lose internet access.
Other internet features to consider:
Skype- If you’re tired of paying those knuckleheads at the cell phone company for every call, then you can use your internet access to make phone calls using VOIP from Skype. In some cases, you need to jailbreak your phone to make it work (see previous Blog http://community.koinlocal6.com/blogs/current_hot_topics/archive/2009/03/09/3721779.aspx). You can call other Skype users for free. To call land lines there’s a nominal fee. Go to http://skype.com to sign up. It also works great on any laptop or netbook. You may see me occasionally on Koin News doing a live video Skype interview like I did last week.
BIS vs. BES- If you’re going to buy a Blackberry, then you have a couple of internet choices. Blackberry Enterprise Service, or Blackberry Internet Service. BIS is cheaper but it only lets you surf the internet. BES also allows you to connect to a Blackberry server for wireless syncing of email, calendar and contacts, but it costs more. Many people make this mistake and go with the cheaper service and end up not being able to use their email the way they want. Remember that Blackberry, through BIS, also does email, but it is email forwarding and not complete synchronization of all features like BES.
IPOD Touch- The IPOD Touch is the iPhone without the phone. Therefore, you can use it with Skype to make phone calls without needing a phone contract. Just be close to a wireless access point and you have a phone without the monthly expense!
Tethering- This feature allows you to be on the internet using 3G with your laptop when you can’t get access to 802.11 Wifi, or you just don’t want to pay for it. It’s very handy at hotels that charge for internet access. Some phones do this natively, like Windows Mobile. Other phones have to be broken out of jail to get it to work. I was able to tether quite nicely in Vegas last weekend and didn’t have to pay the $14 per day to surf the web on my laptop.
Cell Cards- A cell card is basically a cell phone for your laptop that’s just used for internet access. If you can tether your phone like I did, then it’s not necessary, but if you need to use a cell card, they’re a good deal. They run the same cost as a data plan for your phone, which is around $50 per month for unlimited use.
Clear- This is a product from Clearwire that can achieve cable broadband speeds wirelessly. It does cost more than a cell card but it is much faster. The downside is that you need to surf in the areas where you can get service. It will only be available in the Portland metro area, so travelers won’t get a lot of use with Clear until they expand the service nationwide.
4G- This technology has been used as a big consumer scam. There is no 4G standard as of yet. You can read all about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4g . The issue I have is that several companies like Clearwire are claiming their product is using 4G, but it’s not true. Even Google is said to be making the next 4G, but they won’t. This is an evolution to 3G and it’s a future standard that several companies are working on. They’re trying to get the speed up to 100 Mbs, which will be amazing if it works. However, it is still years away before it will be ratified. In the meantime, if anyone says they are 4G, just tell them they’re full of megabits.
For more great tips, check back here each week and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10:00 AM on KOL in Seattle, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.