Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Telephony: WIFI using cell phone and Cradlepoint PHS300


Secure internet access from any WIFI enabled device, using the connectivity in your cell phone.

The Devices

Motorola 9QM running Windows Mobile 6.1 on Verizon

The Goal
Create personal wifi network to use Skype phone and laptop anywhere.
Use that personal network for Skype calls and full internet access while in the car, and in remote locations.

Time to Implement
About 120 minutes overall, complicated, but definitely worth trying.

The Required Components
  • Skype account and phone: For basic prerequisites, please refer to http://analogtech.blogspot.com/2009/01/telephony-free-phone-calls-using.html
  • Windows Mobile: I used a Motorola 9QM with a custom "full" 6.1 WM Smartphone ROM installed - "VRZ_P3_MM_C_07.61.03I_01.04.00R_MONSTER_01.SBF". Cradlepoint support confirms that this same confirguration will work with Blackberry and with full Windows Mobile as well. I will test those configurations next.
  • Internet Plan for Smart Phone: I switched my plan from the Verizon unlimited internet to the email and web plan. There are a large number of choices available, ranging from $32/mo (my plan) to $50/mo. Verizon announced recent changes that will even reduce my internet costs even more.
  • Cradepoint PHS300: This revolutionary device allows the use of the internet connection on your cellphone as a WAN, and the PHS300 becomes the Wireless gateway. This differs from conventional tethering in that the Cradlepoint device provides a direct network connection via RNDIS rather than as a dial up. This means that the connection is FAST.

The Test

Preparation –
  1. Skype Account – Go to http://analogtech.blogspot.com/2009/01/telephony-free-phone-calls-using.html for details on creating a Skype account and getting the Skype phone. 
  2. Purchase – Cradlepoint sent me the PHS300 to test, but Amazon has these in stock at a price better than the discount retailers, and can ship for free in a few days.
  3. Smart Phone - I wanted to test with the latest version of Windows Mobile. My phone shipped with WM6.0, so I updated to WM6.1 Smart Phone Edition. 
  4. Internet Access - Make sure that you have an "Unlimited web" plan for your phone, or this could get really expensive.
Firmware –
  1. Firmware - Motorola 9QM - I installed new firmware using the RDLite program for the Motorola 9QM. It is an advanced process and "can" brick the phone. 
  2. Firmware - PHS300 - I received the PHS300 directly from Cradlepoint, and had to upgrade the firmware. It is a super easy process using the web based admin interface. I upgraded right away to 2.2.1 following guidance from support. I received the device with firmware 2.0.1.
  3. Configuration – I followed the on screen prompts to add my user ID and password for my account.
The PHS300 comes with simple instructions, a power cord and a USB cable. The battery is shipped outside of the unit. To set it up, install the battery, close the cover, and turn on the power switch on the side.

  1. Charge the PHS300
  2. Charge the cell phone - important!!!
  3. While charging the PHS300, login to the admin interface. Using a wireless enabled computer, search for new wireless networks. You will find a new one. Mine is PHS-b09. Expect a new SSID starting with PHS. Connect to the wireless network. It is unsecured.
  4. Go to The password is unique to the device, and is the last 6 numbers from the serial number printed on the back of the device.
  5. Go to Cradlepoint.com and download the latest firware.
  6. Using the admin interface, upload and install the new firmware. It will take a few minutes and reboot the device.
  7. After it reboots, reconnect to the admin interface, and enable WPA encryption. (this is to get around a connection issue with the Netgear phone). I selected WPA2 and AES, and left the default numeric string as the key. 
  8. The Cradlepoint device supports uPNP. I left it on, but it can easily be disabled within the admin interface if this violates security policy.
  1. Once the smart phone is charged, plug the USB cable from the Motorola 9QM (substitute your WM phone here) to the PHS300. The USB interface on the PHS300 is NOT powered, so your Motorola device will lose power over a short time. Make sure to fully charge it.
  2. On the phone, go to "start","file manager",then browse to "//windows" folder
  3. Select the Internet Connection Sharing Tool ( IntShrUI.exe )
  4. Set PC Connection to USB
  5. Set Network Connection to Broadband
  6. Now, select "connect". A message may say "Check USB cable connection".
  7. Disconnect the USB cable, wait for a beep from the phone and reconnect.
  8. Select "connect" again. You will see a RED light on the PHS300 turn on. It will take about 3 seconds, and it will turn green.
  9. Green means that you have internet access. Login to the admin interface and check status to verify connectivity. The admin interface has a great deal of information and updates in realtime without requiring a reload. 
Connect the Skype Phone
  • In the main menu, select "menu"
  • Select "settings"
  • Select "networks in range"
  • Select the "PHS . . . " network
  • The Netgear phone will automatically detect the WPA authentication requirements. Type in the key, default is "12345678"
  • Connect.
  • It may take a few attempts to connect. I believe that this is a timing issue for some. It worked fine for me the first time. As a note, I actually thought I was not connected, but when I hit the key, I noticed that I was connected to Skype.
  • Connect the Laptop
    1. Browse the wireless networks. Select the PHS . . . SSID and
    2. Enter the key, "12345678" is default
    3. It should be connected
    The Test
    Everything was charged before the test. I got my cell phone, the PHS300 and my laptop, and headed for the car. The test is to validate reliable internet ANYWHERE so that I can use my laptop and make Skype calls.
    1. I connected the cell to the PHS with USB
    2. I initiated the connection exactly as described above. It took two attempts to start the connection.
    3. Note: I set my phone to not interrupt my internet connection with a phone call
    4. While my wife drove, I called a Skype contact using the Netgear phone. This worked fine.
    5. I then called a friend's cell in the Caribbean. Worked great.
    6. While we drove, I received an email on my laptop and responded to a Google Talk message.
    Areas that could be improved
    1. Bluetooth - It would be nice to have a bluetooth connection to avoid the hassle of the USB cable.
    2. Non Powered USB - The USB connection into a Motorola phone is the source of power. It is possible to charge the PHS300, but it does not share the power via the USB, so the PHS300 can be fully charged while the cell phone battery gets drained. NOTE: I was able to successfully charge a Motorola KRZR, but this does not function with a Motorola 9QM.
    3. Not mobile as shipped - Cradlepoint makes a car charger for this device. It would be nice it this were included in the package.
    4. Issue connecting wireless to Skype phone - When I first attempted to connect to the PHS300 from the Skype phone, it kept failing. I enabled user signing at the router. This put a new message on the phone. I tested this in various scenarios for a few hours, and found that when connecting unsecured, the PHS300 logs the Netgear phone as if it is connected, but the Netgear fails to finish negotiating the connection. I sent this issue along with suggestions to Cradlepoint. If WPA encryption is turned on, it seems to slow the negotiation of the connection just enough to allow the phone to connect.
    5. Issue with USB cable connection - With a manually initiated connection, the PHS300 NEVER connect on the first attempt. It seems to require me to break the connection by pulling the cable and reattach, then reinitiate the connection. Doing this, connections were successful, but I suspect that this may have to do with how the PHS300 device polls the USB port. I sent this issue to Cradlepoint.
    The PHS300 can get it's power from the car, and I have an inverter to keep my laptop charged. The Netgear phone uses a USB power adapter, and I also have one for the car. The BIG negative is that the PHS300 connects via the USB interface to the cell, but does not power the interface. Therefore, the Skype Phone, the laptop and the PHS300 were fully charged in the car during the test, but my cell was getting drained.

    The Cost
    The Cradlepoint device costs around $150 from Amazon. This is a solution that provides convenience and facility for a one time cost for the Cradlepoint PHS300.

    The Score (0 - 10)


    Not perfect, and a bit of a chore to setup, but indispensible. Additionally, a few small improvements (powered USB, connection improvements with WM6.1) and this will be a SOLID 10!

    The Summary
    I tested the device in my house, on the highway, and in a "dead zone". The performance in my house was admirable, and allowed me to stream video directly to my laptop. It worked GREAT from my car, and allowed me to do whatever I could if I were not moving. The dead zone imposed a reasonable challenge. The system depends on some rudimentary connectivity. If the connectivity is there, this works great. Verizon offers 3G service. It is hard to appreciate the performance of 3G on a cell phone, but the laptop was pushing it, and it did not seem at all slow.

    The Cradlepoint device is expensive and inconvenient until it works for the first time, while in the car, on the highway, using the Skype phone and the laptop and the web cam and the netbook, all at the same time. Once you have done that, what you realize is that the Cradlepoint does not compete with a wireless data card. It offers a personal WIFI network wherever you are. The facility and performance of that WIFI network is great, and once you realize how handy it is to have a wireless printer in the car, the camera, the netbook, the Skype phone, and all using a single cell phone to connect, it changes the way that you think about computing on the move. I not longer need to troll for hostspots since I can create my own where ever I am. I do not want to be without my Cradlepoint PHS300.

    If you want to try this yourself, use the links below. One takes you to Skype, and the others to Amazon to order the phone. Leave a comment if you find this useful, need more info, or just have a thought.

    I am sending the hardware to the Caribbean for further testing. I want to test this Personal Hotspot with an HP Netbook which I still have to get.

    Cradlepoint was kind enough to provide the PHS300 for the testing described herein.