Of Voda, voodoo and GPRS

Psion netBook scores narrow win over ThinkPad in connectivity race

A couple of weeks back, while getting all excited about the Psion netBook finally getting Ethernet, I intimated that I might well buckle and spring for a Nokia 7650, thus adding the joys of GPRS connectivity and massively enhancing my new untethered lifestyle. I resisted the temptation for a whole two days, then reported to the Vodafone store.

Willpower? Budgetary responsibility? We've heard of it. The following two weeks have been spent banging my head against GPRS, consulting discussion boards, Googling for 'vodafone gprs 7650' (this gets you quite a lot of techie-looking stuff in German, Italian and Hungarian, along with what appears to be the entirety of the setup information on the Vodafone UK site - i.e., nothing). But finally this morning after pulling rank with the PR people yesterday, Steve from support has sorted me out. It's not entirely clear to either of us why it works, but it works on his Revo and my netBook, and I'm going to lie down for a couple of weeks before I even contemplate checking to see what I need to change in order to break it again.

In the UK mass market GPRS is finally just about poised to take off, the phones will shortly be cheap enough for them to be shifting in high volumes, and therefore there are going to be quite a lot of people going through the loop I've just gone through. I've no direct experience of the level of knowledge of other service providers, but it seems reasonable to presume that large numbers of the sales and support people will not yet have been brought up to speed on GPRS data, so passing on what I've gleaned is a worthwhile exercise. (voodoo settings incantations for Psions plus at the bottom of this piece, if you can't wait).

I ran GPRS connectivity as a race between my PC and the Psion, working on the assumption that it might work straight off with the PC anyway, and that if it didn't there was less chance of my being told to sod off, of course it won't work on unsupported kit. I was wrong on that, incidentally; since Psion's exit from the consumer market the stores may have been bundling PocketPCs instead of Revos, but support still seems willing to treat you as a rational human being. I doubt this will last, as least as far as the first line people are concerned, once the call-centre scripts have all been rewritten, so enjoy it while you can.

The first bit of head-banging was conducted with the Psion. A quick search pointed me at Mike McConnell's helpful site which has a list of settings for numerous phones which seems to have been put together by Craig Chambers of Psion-Teklogix. There's nothing there for the 7650, but Craig passed me on some tips that seemed to suggest there was no complex voodoo as regards this phone. Well, not for him, maybe. The settings listed, incidentally, ought to be equally useful for Revo and 5MX, although you'll need the Psion mobile connectivity patch, available from Mike here. And from Psion, of course, but aren't you sick of having to fill in false registration names so you can get to the download bit?

As it happened, none of this worked for me, so I proceeded to Vodafone support. Which brings us to point to watch out for number one - the front line support staff have not yet been adequately briefed on the difference between WAP over GPRS and data GPRS, using the handset as a modem. They may be more up to speed with GPRS PC Cards, which are quite clearly different, but when they said they'd send me some settings what arrived was a message with settings for the "Vodafone GPRS" Access Point (AP), which is actually an access point for WAP - the Vodafone data/Internet AP is actually called INTERNET.

OK, give up on that. Vodafone's site, whilst totally silent on settings, offers a connectivity product called Connect Me, which is actually Alice Connect from Sweden's Alice Systems. It's available for PC, PocketPC and Palm but, erm, as of the other day the config file it uses seemed to have been last updated in November 2001, so there ain't no 7650 settings. I've tutted at the PR people about this, so something might happen RSN.

But actually, it's a bit of a blind alley anyway, because if you've got the right info to send the modem, you can just use dial-up networking. Nokia's PC suite for the 7650, which comes with the phone, allows you to get the 7650 set up as a modem on your PC, so Connect Me can be largely redundant, apart from providing you with a large list of settings to pore over as you research. My investigations of Connect Me are currently stalled at an "unsupported AT command" error message. It doesn't directly specify the command, and while it should be feasible to hunt it down and kill it, this doesn't seem a cost-effective use of my time, given that it'll likely be fixed when they update the config to includethe 7650. They will however have to get thoroughly on top of it within the next few months, because as the user base expands there'll be large numbers of people who'll want to use Connect Me rather than than faff around with strings in dial up networking.

This is possibly the right time to introduce important point number two. Some of the discussion boards suggest that GPRS data is not available on Vodafone's lowest GPRS tariff. This was the case, and it was difficult to get hold of anybody at Vodafone to actually confirm it, but the tariffs have changed and now it's not; GPRS data is available on all GPRS tariffs. And erm, it's now still difficult to confirm this, but Steve says so, and as my system is now working, Steve's right. If you've got a fairly old SIM then it might (as Craig suggested) be the case that it's not enabled for GPRS, but mine is around two years old, and is OK.

Subsidiary important point: a disloyal but helpful operative told me that the yummy new SIMs Vodafone has been encouraging you to upgrade seem to enable annoying reminders of how wonderful Vodafone services are and why you should use them. Adverse customer reaction will quite possibly sandbag this one, but remember to ask yourself if you really need that new SIM right now.

At this point in the process, however, I'd put the PC back on hold and, hoorah, found a claimed working settings combination for 7650 and Psion 7 over at PDAstreet. This didn't work for me, of course, but I was getting as far as grabbing the modem, connecting, and then apparently getting kicked off the system. The error message, 'Etelserver, code user, reason 23', seemed to imply a validation problem, which seemed to suggest the tariff problem, which at that juncture I still didn't know no longer existed. Now I've no idea what it means - anyone?

OK, so here we go for the final conflict. Back to the store, where the lads very honestly put their hands up and put me straight on the phone to tech support, tech support tells me it's a call-back, yes they do Sundays, and so I wait. And wait. Tuesday, I pull rank, and Steve calls today. Now, what is most interesting is that the two of us sat there doing the old weird modem incantation stuff, complete with eye of newt. Steve's phone was working with the AP name in lower case, so OK, mine went into lower case. Steve was just using ATZ to initialise the modem and no data initialisation string, so mine got that as well. Scarily, Steve had the modem type set to fixed line, rather than mobile. Hell's teeth, why should that work?

But it does, although it looks like in some cases the system's being told the same thing twice. Belt and braces. That's not to say the settings at Mike McConnell's site or PDAstreet aren't right, just that mysteriously, they don't work for me. Anyway, here they are. Try these, and the other two, and maybe you'll get airborne. For my next trick, I'm going to watch the bills over the next few months with a view to reporting back on how many arms and legs the untethered lifestyle is going to cost you.®

On 7650:
settings / connection settings / gprs:
GPRS connection - when needed
Access point - internet

settings / connection settings / access points / internet:
Connection name - internet
Data bearer - GPRS
access point name - internet
user name - web
prompt password - no
password - web
authentication - normal
Gateway IP address -
(no change in advanced settings)

On Psion modem settings:
Current modem : call it what you like
speed : 115200
connect via : infrared
fax class : auto

[options] loudspeaker in use : never
volume : medium
pause time for "," 4 secs

[initialisation] init. (reset) string : ATZ
data init. string :
fax init. string :

[advanced] flow control : Hardware (RTS/CTS)
Terminal detect (DSR/DTR) : ticked
carrier detect (DCD) : not ticked
modem type : fixed line

Psion internet settings:
Service : call it what you like
connection type : dial up
use smart dialing : not ticked
standard dial-up number : *99#

[account] manual login : not ticked
username : web
password : web
confirm password : web

[addresses] get ip from server : ticked
Get DNS address from server : ticked

[Login] use login script : not ticked

[Advanced] Enable PPP extensions : not ticked
Allow plain text authentication : ticked
Use call back : not ticked

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