Archive for the 'Cellular' Category

Tethering: The Next Big Scam

If you thought 20 cent SMS was bad, hold on to your hat.

The next big scam coming out of your favorite cellular telco is tethering. What’s tethering you ask? Tethering is the act of connecting your laptop to your phone in order to get on the net and take advantage of that data plan you already pay for.

Why would anyone bother to give this behavior a name? Well to charge you more money, of course!

But wait, you say, I already shell out for the “unlimited” data plan! Yes but it’s only unlimited within the, uhh, limits of AT&T’s imagination! War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Limited is Unlimited

Perhaps next they’ll sell us the relaxification plan, whereby we are given permission to use our phones while napping in a hammock.

Mark my words: this is going to be a big deal soon. Avoidance of tethering rates will be the number one reason to jailbreak your iPhone. Customers will find enormous surprise bills as AT&T combs their usage logs to track down the rogue tether-ers. Web forum goers will trade tips on flying under the radar.

I must admit that I’m a bit shocked at the lack of uproar over tethering. Apparently consumers are just accepting it. There are even folks eagerly awaiting a tethering option for the iPhone.

Someday my phone will just be a small computer connected to a wireless internet. Someday.

3 Days of 3G

Mark and his iPhone 3G

I’ve had my iPhone 3G a few days now, so I’m way past due for a blog post.

Email
At first, Gmail really sucked. Eventually I fixed most of the issues. The trick was not using the GMail setup “shortcut”, and rather to just manually configure IMAP. This page was quite helpful.

Alas, things could be better. I’m currently polling for new mail, which means an update latency of 15 minutes in the worst case. Still looking for a push mail solution that works with Gmail.

Calendar
My calendar stuff works now but again, its kludgey. I subscribe to my Google calendar with iCal, and sync it down when the phone is connected over USB. Realtime updates would be much nicer. (Update 3/9/09: Resolved! Check out the Google Sync beta.)

App Store
While the App Store is cool, I wish it would stop asking me for my damn password (especially when I am about to download an app which costs $0).

These apps are all useful and free:

  • Bloomberg.app — Better than the built-in stock app.
  • Google.app — Remember to go here when you want to initiate a search.
  • Facebook.app — The data is almost better than my contact list.

Billing
Be aware that you may lose your corporate discount when getting an iPhone. I wasn’t prepared for this.

My wife works for Microsoft. I work for AMD. Both have discount agreements with AT&T. Adding the iPhone to our family plan killed the (better) MS discount, but I was able to add the AMD discount instead.

It’s all very confusing. At one point I was told by an AT&T rep that we could get the MS discount but I would need to pay for the enterprise data plan ($45/mo instead of $30/mo).

Hacking
PwnageTool works great to jailbreak the iPhone, so long as you have an OS X machine. When you do this, you get Cydia, which is a slick port of Debian’s APT system to the iPhone. This is a great way to get cool software that Apple would never officially allow. I’ve installed the following rogue apps:

Misc
I haven’t tried to hook up with my employer’s Exchange server yet. My technical side wants to make it work — that is, until my lazy side bitch-slaps it and screams “work/life balance.”

Springboard (the home screen) looks really cluttered with 20 app-icons.

Wow, visual voicemail is nice. I had to reset my PIN before it worked, though.

Just Move the Damn Bits

Wireless carriers are such dinosaurs.

Here’s how it should work. I pay you money every month. I give you bits. You move the damn bits. That’s it. Just move the damn bits. Don’t ask questions, and don’t send my bits to the NSA either.

We should have nationwide wireless data, at megabit speeds, for a flat monthly rate. There should be 100 wireless providers, and when asked at a bar on a Saturday night, most people shouldn’t even remember who theirs is*.

Instead, we’ve got 4 carriers with such delusions of grandeur, that they actually exert control over the handset manufacturers. My RAZR still has a Cingular logo printed on it. Can you imagine Jonathan Ive allowing this?

Instead, they force us into “walled gardens” where we can only buy ring tones and games from them. In some cases, they will actually disable hardware features to make this possible.

Instead we have this bullshit tethering idea. What bugs me the most about tethering is that, in a network of sane design, it should not be possible for the carrier to differentiate between “normal data use” and “tethering”.

If you sell me a flat-rate plan and I figure out a way to share the service with my whole dorm, tough cookies. You should have got your damn pricing model right in the first place.

Capitalism has done a complete face-plant on this one. Whatever happened to the collective good?

* Unless they really love their provider, because of the great customer service. Ha! Imagine that!

Cingular Discovers Unintended Consequences

Via Digg, I found this article about a woman who had her cell contract cancelled by Cingular. Her phone was roaming onto competing networks too frequently and thus she wasn’t a good little cash cow.

Here comes the funny part. A few of the Digg comments suggest that this can be done on purpose to escape Cingular’s normally termination-proof contracts. Here’s one example:

When I moved I became fed up with Cingular’s spotty service, so I asked out of the contract. They said no, of course. I connected my phone to another network and dialed my wife’s phone that was on another network and played music through the handsets every night for a month. I was canceled the following month.

Free LG Fusic Worth Every Penny

File this one under, “Be careful what you wish for…”

Sprint gave Joel a free phone, hoping he would review it for them, and unfortunately for them, he did.

RAZR One-Week Review

Part One: Damn, this thing looks good.

Damn. This thing looks good. I must admit that I bought the phone based solely on its appearance. Enough said.

Part Two: Bitching.

The amount of Cingular branding on the phone is disgusting. Their stupid logo is everywhere. Every time I see it, I am filled with rage. I’m not an expert in marketing, but this seems like a bad thing.

In the main menu, which is organized as a three-by-three grid of icons, the central icon is for the “Cingular Mall”. This is the default choice. I’m not sure I can explain why, but I find this insulting.

There is actually a menu on this phone entitled “My Stuff.” The icon is a musical note and a green arrow superimposed over a section of movie film. Why would anyone do something so stupid? Probably because the menu contains 6 almost completely unrelated items.

Over-generalization seems to have been a primary design goal:

  • Bluetooth-related settings are under Main -> Settings -> Connection
  • Ringtone options are in Main -> Settings -> Audio

Near as I can tell, there is nothing in either of these menus that would prohibit the titles Bluetooth and Ringtones. Sigh.

Luckily, the RAZR is pretty hackable. With the right software and a mini-USB cable, I may be able to fix a lot of these issues. I wish I didn’t have to.

Update: The software on T-Mobile’s RAZR phones seems better. It doesn’t appear to enable the video camera function, however.

Cell Phone Woes

After accidentally amputating my 5th antenna last week, I decided to get a new cell phone. As it happens, the black RAZR has no external antenna. Woot! I love faux-practicality. I begin the hunt for the best price.

Oddly enough, locally-run Cartoys.com is offering the best terms out there: a one-year agreement with Cingular, and the phone is free after $100 mail-in rebate. I generally hate rebates, but the deal is too good to pass up. I fill out the online order form, indicating that I want to port my existing Verizon number from Austin, TX. So far, so good.

On Sunday I get the phone. Just the phone. No documentation, nothing. I have to wait until Monday to call Cartoys. They give me a new phone number with a Redmond, WA area code. They also tell me that I’ll have to call Cingular myself to activate the phone. Upon hearing the new number, I remind them about porting my old number. They tell me that Cingular can help here as well.

I call Cingular and things start to get even more confusing. The representative tells me that my SIM card is for the California market, and can’t be used to port my old number. I’ll have to go to a bricks-and-mortar Cingular store to pick up a free replacement SIM card.

This is a pain, but I do it.

New SIM at the ready, I call Cingular back and read them a sequence of digits befitting a recently-discovered Mersenne prime. Everything seems to go according to plan, and I am directed to call an 800 number to accept the terms and conditions of my contract. This will be the final step.

A stupid automated voice reads my contract. “Twenty-four months,” it says. That’s not right. I’m only supposed to be committed for a year. Instead of pressing 1 to accept the contract, or star to repeat it, I hang up (no other options are offered).

At this point my memory gets fuzzy. I think I call Cartoys first, and they offer to contact Cingular on my behalf. They get back to me saying that everything is fine and has been all along. Again I dial the number to accept the terms and conditions. Again the stupid automated voice says “twenty-four months.”

Must…resist…homicidal…urges…

Back to Cartoys, who have become decidedly unhelpful at this point. Call Cingular, they say. I call Cingular. I spend 30 minutes arguing with the representative who alternates between telling me he can’t do anything, and suggesting that it’s impossible to buy a 1-year term contract over the internet (despite the fact that I have done exactly this). I mention the receipt that I am holding. I ask him to look up the Redmond number that Cartoys originally gave me, and he sees a 1-year term. Neither of these facts seem to dissuade him.

May I please speak to your supervisor? (Translation: you are a damn moron, and at this point I’ll take my chances with any other sentient life form.)

After the obligatory retelling of my entire story, the supervisor changes the contract on the Austin, TX number to 1 year. I get the impression that she thinks she is doing me some kind of favor. Again I call the terms and conditions robot. This time the speaker quacks “twelve months”. I accept.

Now she tells me, all I have to do is cancel out that Redmond, WA number. Fine. Whatever. I never wanted it in the first place. I’m transferred to someone else for this purpose. Believe it or not, the fun continues.

The new voice on the end of the line mentions something about a $175 cancellation charge. I pretty much tell the whole story again. I’m really good at it. Maybe next time I’ll use funny voices for the different characters.

“Because we’re within 30 days, I can do it free of charge due to buyer’s remorse,” he says. Another “favor”. This is getting too weird. By now I am the most freaking remorseful buyer on Earth, but it doesn’t sound right. I ask him to table the whole cancellation thing until I talk to Cartoys but it’s too late: the Redmond number is already cancelled.

“They’ll probably want you to return the equipment,” he says. He talks about going down to pick up a new phone if this happens. He quotes me a price on a replacement phone. I tell him I don’t understand. I just got the damn phone, why the hell would I return it? Maybe Cartoys won’t want it back, he says.

Maybe?

At this point Cartoys is closed. All their phones are magically disabled the instant their painstakingly-calibrated atomic clock strikes 4:59:59 PM. I resolve to call them tomorrow.

To be continued…

Update: Dan from Cartoys got me all sorted out. Unfortunately, the only way to undo all this mess was to ditch my Austin number and go with the Redmond one. After everything I’ve been through, this actually seems reasonable.