PDANet offers smartphone tethering for laptops

Tethering a laptop with a smartphone with a broadband connection can save road warriors weight and space when on-the-go.

Tethering a laptop with a smartphone with a broadband connection can save road warriors weight and space when on-the-go.

If you have a smartphone with a high-speed data connection, wouldn't it be nice to be able to use that connection with your laptop? PDANet from June Fabrics Technology is an application for Palm OS  and Windows Mobile phones that lets you do just that.

I have a Dell Latitude D630 with a built-in broadband card as well as a Motorola Q smartphone with a dedicated data plan. In short, I'm always connected. That said, the D630 is bulky and I don't like traveling with it. That's why I bought an Asus Eee PC and installed Windows XP on it. The problem? The Eee PC doesn't have a built-in broadband card and I didn't want to spend another $80 or more on a broadband USB adapter (and possibly another monthly data plan).

PDANet is an application that lets you tether your notebook to your smartphone via USB or bluetooth and use your smartphone's data plan to browse the web. I field tested this application at CES 2008 and I have to say I was quite impressed.

PDAnet offers smartphone tethering for laptops
Asus Eee PC 4G using Motorola Q for wireless broadband.

Smartphone tethering installation? What installation?
If you've ever tried to tether your notebook to a smartphone then you know how painful the process can be. In fact, just run a Google search for the word "tethering" and you'll find an overwhelming collection of how-to articles outlining painstakingly detailed step-by-step instructions on how to connect a laptop and a cell phone. It isn't easy ... until now.

The installation process for PDANet is so simple and straightforward that you can hardly call it an installation process. Simply download the installation file, click on the buttons to install the application on your Windows laptop, connect your phone via a USB cable, click "connect" and you're using broadband!

That jaw-dropping level of convenience is why PDANet is a steal for only $34. Sure, you can spend hours trying to hack Windows and your smartphone using complicated tethering instructions found online. If you're lucky you might even get your laptop and smartphone to work 50 percent of the time. On the other hand, you can pay $34 and be up and running in less time than it took to read this paragraph. Tough choice.

Here's how simple this application is to use with a Windows Mobile smartphone such as the Motorola Q. When you hook your device up to your laptop, an ActiveSync session will start. At the same time, a window will pop up asking if you want to connect to the wireless Internet. Tap on that window and PDANet will connect you. That's it; you're done.

PDAnet connection screen image

The process for connecting up a Palm OS-based Treo is almost as simple.

If you have your smartphone set up to synchronize with your PC over Bluetooth, you won't need wires to use PDANet either. That said, Bluetooth tethering takes an extra couple of steps and the broadband connection speed is much faster using a USB cable than Bluetooth. Again, it's your call, but using a short USB cable is a small price to pay for faster internet access.

Speaking of speed, Windows XP reported my average data connection rate was 2.4Mbps. The speedtest over at http://www.speakeasy.net reported my connection varied from 451kbps download and 85kbps upload to as high as 721kbps download and 212kbs upload. In fact, the Asus Eee PC tethered to my Motorola Q actually produced better speedtest numbers than the built-in broadband card in my Dell Latitude D630.

No free lunch ... no free broadband, even with PDAnet smartphone tethering
The most important thing to keep in mind about PDANet is that it does not give you free wireless access to the Internet. You must purchase a data plan from your wireless carrier (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc.).

Having a voice plan is not the same thing as a data plan. You're going to need to pay extra for the ability to access the web on your mobile device. Rates for this vary from carrier to carrier.

The reason I'm taking the time to write this is simple: If you don't have a data plan and you use PDANet anyway, you're going to get a shockingly huge bill at the end of the month.

When you talk to your carrier about a data plan, don't mention that you're going to be using your smartphone as a wireless modem for your laptop. Many carriers charge extra for this, which is, technically speaking, complete bull. That's like if your local telephone company charged you more based on the number of telephones you have in your house.

One of the nicest parts about PDANet is you don't need to pay for one of the more expensive laptop plans. A standard "unlimited" smartphone plan will work fine. That can cover the cost of this application in a month or two.

But there are limits. Carriers monitor how much wireless data their customers use, and when you buy an "unlimited" plan, you need to be aware that there definitely are limits. If you're a very heavy downloader, you're going to get cut off. You should be fine with web surfing and email, but if you start downloading massive files you're going to get massive bills (or at least nasty emails) from your service provider.

PDAnet compatibility with different wireless devices
Not surprisingly, there is one version of PDANet for Windows Mobile and a set of others for Palm OS, and they aren't cross-compatible.

The June Fabrics Website has the most current list of compatible devices, so I'll just say you need to be sure you buy the version for your specific device, whether it's Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile 6 Professional, or one of Palm's Treo smartphones.

Your laptop can be running Windows XP, Vista, or 2000.

PDAnet makes smartphone tethering simple
In the end, tethering your laptop to a smartphone is a great idea that is much more difficult than it should be. Consumers all over the United States pay for expensive data plans for smartphones that rarely ever make serious use of that data. Notebook broadband plans are great, but even more expensive.

PDANet solves the issue of complicated setup and lets you use your Windows Mobile or Palm OS smartphone and laptop the way you should be able to in the first place.

Sure, $34 is rather expensive compared to other mobile software, but you have to think about all the value that PDANet returns on your investment. You also need to consider what your time is worth.

If you decide to try and tether your laptop and smartphone by yourself and get frustrated, that $34 might soon seem like a bargain.

PDAnet smartphone tethering pros

  • Low price
  • Super easy installation
  • As good or better than a dedicated broadband card

PDA smartphone tethering cons

  • It isn't free
  • It doesn't print money or feed starving babies

PDA smartphone tethering availability

PDANet is available from the Brighthand Software Store:

Versions for earlier Treo models can be found on the June Fabrics Technology website.

This was first published in January 2008

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