Testing the Speed of BlackBerry Tethering Against My Own Networks

Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 10:17 pm | 8,846 views | trackback url
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I’ve been a long-time Cingular customer with my phones, and when they converted to AT&T, everything got wildly complex.

My normal monthly phone bill is hovering between $225.00 and $250.00 each month (yes, really… see below):

November 2009 AT&T Statement

This bill consists of my handheld (BlackBerry Bold, $99/month unlimited data + voice + text) + SIM card (inside my laptop, $59/month unlimited data). Since this is effectively two SIM cards, it counts as two separate “phones”.

Oddly though, the one inside the laptop still gets the 9-1-1 surcharge, even though there’s no way I could “dial 9-1-1” from the laptop. If I’m in any sort of emergency situation, the last thing I’m going to do, is fire up the laptop, connect to the LAN, launch Skype and call 9-1-1 from there. But they still charge me $0.35/month for that “privilege”.

I use the laptop while traveling on the train to the office, but when I suspend the laptop and resume it, the Linux “sierra” driver does not wake the SIM card back up. There is no known fix, and I tend to have to close out all of my apps, suspend my VMware sessions, power off and reboot to wake the SIM card back up. Not fun.

I wanted to try to reduce the bill, and spent about 2 hours on the phone today with a lovely woman “Sue” from AT&T to try to discuss my possible options. There are a few, but all have downsides (reduced cost, but reduced minutes or increased minutes, but lose my 20% company discount and so on).

So I’ve been testing tethering my BlackBerry to my Linux laptop, using any number of tools (wvdial, XmBlackBerry, Berry4all).

This does work, if you configure it properly. I ran into lots of trouble with it originally, because /etc/ppp/options had some conflicting options that my hand-written, optimized “blackberry” chatscript didn’t work well with. Once I figured that out, it latched right up immediately.

Writing data size: 4
	Modem -> [0x41 0x54 0x48 0xd ] [ATH.]
Waiting for PPPD shutdown to complete.
Hangup (SIGHUP)
Connect time 3.2 minutes.
Sent 200888 bytes, received 1852094 bytes.
Script /etc/ppp/ip-down started (pid 9381)
sent [LCP TermReq id=0x3 "User request"]
Script /etc/ppp/ip-down finished (pid 9381), status = 0x0
Network stats thread completed.
sent [LCP TermReq id=0x4 "User request"]
Connection terminated.
Modem hangup
PPPD finished

At this point, I could use my BlackBerry as a modem for my laptop and get around the suspend/resume bug with the Linux Sierra driver, but that comes at a price (literally and figuratively).

My laptop’s “phone contract” doesn’t expire until March 2010, and I pay about $53/month for that, and the early termination fee is $175.00. I could cancel that now, and save $90.00, but then I’d have to pay $60.00 for the “unlimited data + tethering” package. I already have a $30 “unlimited data” package on my BlackBerry, and so that would be a net add of $30.00 to the existing $99.00 plan already on there.

But what exactly is the “tethering package” that AT&T offering, doing for me? What am I paying $60/month for? I can tether today. It works. I can continue to consume the data on the data plan side of things, so why pay for tethering?

Basically I’d be saving $23.00 over the cost of a $225+ phone bill, after paying $175 to get out of the existing contract. You can see where this is going.. because AT&T has put some serious mathematicians behind figuring this out, so they can extract every single nickel and dime from your personal monies to pad their coffers.

I wanted to do some speed tests to see what the actual performance gain/loss would be across my local WiFi segment, my laptop’s onboard AT&T card (using the aforementioned “Sierra” driver), and the BlackBerry tethered to the laptop using ppp to “dial out” to the Internet.

Here are the results:

Speed using my home WiFi Connection:

Fast, strong, solid speeds. No complaints, and I use it every day to push gigabytes of data around.

Speedtest using my home WiFi connection

Speed using my BlackBerry tethered to my laptop:

As you can see, the speed is disgustingly slow here. Absolutely useless for anything more than telnet or ssh, and barely even good enough for that.

Speedtest with the BlackBerry tethered to the laptop

Speed using the onboard AT&T SIM card inside my laptop:

The speed here is reasonable, and acceptable for working on the train.

Speedtest using AT&T GPRS on the laptop

I just can’t continue to stomach the costs of the whole set of services anymore. $200+/month for a standard phone bill with no overage charges is ridiculous.

From what “Sue” at AT&T told me, everyone who uses a BlackBerry or an iPhone with an unlimited data plan, pays roughly the same amount. I’m skeptical.

I’m going to play with the tethering/ppp options to see if I can’t get some more performance out of it, and roll through to March and discontinue the service that my laptop is currently consuming.

The real question though, is how can AT&T tell if I’m not just using my BlackBerry to stream a ton of data (like through Pandora for BlackBerry), or if I’m tethering?

Last Modified: Sunday, March 6th, 2016 @ 01:54

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