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.
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.
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.
Internet Access - Make sure that you have an "Unlimited web" plan for your phone, or this could get really expensive.
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.
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.
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.
Charge the PHS300
Charge the cell phone - important!!!
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.
Go to 192.168.0.1. The password is unique to the device, and is the last 6 numbers from the serial number printed on the back of the device.
Go to Cradlepoint.com and download the latest firware.
Using the admin interface, upload and install the new firmware. It will take a few minutes and reboot the device.
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.
The Cradlepoint device supports uPNP. I left it on, but it can easily be disabled within the admin interface if this violates security policy.
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.
On the phone, go to "start","file manager",then browse to "//windows" folder
Select the Internet Connection Sharing Tool ( IntShrUI.exe )
Set PC Connection to USB
Set Network Connection to Broadband
Now, select "connect". A message may say "Check USB cable connection".
Disconnect the USB cable, wait for a beep from the phone and reconnect.
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.
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"
Connect the Laptop
Browse the wireless networks. Select the PHS . . . SSID and
Enter the key, "12345678" is default
It should be connected
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.
I connected the cell to the PHS with USB
I initiated the connection exactly as described above. It took two attempts to start the connection.
Note: I set my phone to not interrupt my internet connection with a phone call
While my wife drove, I called a Skype contact using the Netgear phone. This worked fine.
I then called a friend's cell in the Caribbean. Worked great.
While we drove, I received an email on my laptop and responded to a Google Talk message.
Areas that could be improved
Bluetooth - It would be nice to have a bluetooth connection to avoid the hassle of the USB cable.
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.
Not mobile as shipped - Cradlepoint makes a car charger for this device. It would be nice it this were included in the package.
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.
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 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!
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.
Save money on international calls using a Skype device.
Time to Implement About 15 minutes overall, easy enough for anyone to do.
The Required Components(I used three Skype phones and Skype accounts to perform this test)
$0 - Skype Account: Follow this link to create a new Skype account. Skip this step if you have an account. I used three existing accounts.
$150 - Netgear SPH200W: I ordered three phones separately, one for my mother, one for a friend, and one for me. All three phones came from Amazon. The price was great, even better than Best Buy with shipping included, and I got a special discount on my Amazon account.
$4/mo - Skype calling plan: Select a plan to make calls. I chose the unlimited US and Canada plan. There are great plans for US, Europe and parts of Mexico. Coverage is increasing globally for regional plans. If you don't see your country, select the best overall option.
$10 - SkypeOut: These credits allow you to make long distance calls outside of your selected plan at special rates. I call South America and the Caribbean. Start with $10 and select auto-recharge. This makes it handy to use.
$30/yr - SkypeIn: This allows you to have a phone number that will ring to your Skype phone. Just select a phone number from more than 20 countries, and most states in the US.
Skype Account – Creation of an account is easy, and addition of services is easy. My mother was able to do it. My friend is computer literate, but he feels that computers are conspiring against him. I helped him with the creation of his account. His mother did it without assistance.
Purchase – Amazon sent the phones within a few days of my order, even though I only selected the free shipping option.
Firmware – I upgraded my phone to firmware version 184.108.40.206. You can download it here. http://kbserver.netgear.com/release_notes/d103365.asp . Netgear uses an unusual USB/Serial driver that does not install in Vista 64bit. I used my XP laptop and the driver installed easily. The firmware took about an hour to install.
Configuration – I followed the on screen prompts to add my user ID and password for my account.
Connect – The phone immediately found my Dlink router, but it would not connect. It took four tries to connect to the router. I found that if I keep trying to reconnect, it eventually does in my case.
Documentation – The phone is easy enough to setup. Aside from the UPNP issue, it seems fairly straight forward.
Phone Calls –
I made a number of calls using my Skype account and my Skype phone, mom’s Skype phone and my friend’s phone in the Caribbean. (rated 1 -> 10, where 7 is good cell phone and 10 is land line quality)
Skype Phone to Skype PC – 6
Skype Phone to Skype Phone – 7
Skype Phone to mobile, US – 9
Skype Phone to land line, US – 10
Skype Phone to mobile, Caribbean – 8
Skype Phone to land line, South America – 8
Land line to Skype Phone – 8
Mobile to Skype Phone - 8
Skype Phone to Skype Phone, US – 9
Skype Phone to Skype Phone, Caribbean – 8
SkypeIn allows you to receive calls from a land line phone to your Skype account, or to the Netgear phone. It is a handy feature ,and one that makes new technology very approachable and familiar.
Skype cost me $44 to setup for the year (SkypeIn, SkypeOut, Skype Credits, Skype US and Canada account). I called Caribbean at $.22/minute to cell phones and $.03/minute to South America. I used about $8 in calls to the Caribbean and $less than $2 for South America. I spent less than $10 for service, and about $4 on a monthly basis for the full service, or far less than long distance service would cost me on my home phone.
Netgear’s SPH200W Skype Phone serves as a suitable alternative to a land line or mobile phone. It’s performance is acceptable, and the pricing is excellent. The SPH200W performs as well as or better than a cell phone in most circumstances, at a fraction of the cost. Many telephony alternatives may be available in the next year or two, but for now, Netgear’s phone is inexpensive, easy to use, and passed my mother’s requirements. My wife uses my phone frequently. My friend still has not used his Skype phone, but his mother has called me a number of times. If you make calls out of your country, or your phone calls exceed your minutes afforded to you by your cellular plan, this is a reasonable and inexpensive solution.
If you want to try this yourself, use the links below. One takes you to Skype, and the other to Amazon to order the phone. Leave a comment if you find this useful, need more info, or just have a thought.
Images permitted for use for Skype.com and Amazon.com through affiliate referral program