I don’t know how it works with other wireless carriers, but Cingular has some work to do to clear up confusion over their Internet access options and what works (and does not work) with each of their phones and PDAs. Picking a voice plan is easy. You decide how many minutes you want and pick the plan that offers just a little bit more than you expect you will use. Any leftovers go into rollover so you can use them on months that you go a little over.
The problem with the data plans is that you can pick a plan that you think gives you unlimited access, but you have to be very clear on exactly what you’re getting, otherwise you will be billed on a per byte basis.
Follow any Cingular 8125-related forum and you’ll see mass confusion and misinformation about what plan goes with what phone. What your phone is capable of doing and what you will be charged for are two very different things.
For Cingular 8125 owners, it’s a choice between:
MediaNet: This is the plan that’s for regular WAP enabled phones and smart phones. It’s what people who don’t have a Windows Mobile phone select, as well as a phone like the Cingular 2125 smartphone. The key difference appears to be whether or not the screen is touch enabled. If your phone comes with a stylus, you shouldn’t be on this plan. Unlimited (with a voice plan) is $19.99 per month and includes text messages and other features that don’t necessarily require a full-featured PDA to work. Here’s the tricky part: by default, the Cingular 8125 is set to connect to wap.cingular with a proxy. The proxy won’t work if you’re connected to the Internet through a wifi hotspot. The 8125 is one of the first Cingular devices that has both wifi and EDGE/GPRS support, and out of the box you can’t switch smoothly between them. You have to either uncheck the proxy, which may mean slower connections or use a browser like Opera which ignores the proxy setting altogether. If you change your connection to the more open isp.cingular and disable the proxy and you have the MediaNet plan, you may be charged per byte even though you have what you think is an unlimited plan. MediaNet is supposed to connect to wap.cingular, not isp.cingular. Cingular doesn’t want 8125 owners to use this plan, although many do because they ordered it online, had it grandfathered in from a previous phone or they got a clueless Cingular rep who didn’t know better. The Cingular 8125 works just fine with MediaNet and it’s the cheapest option, but if you’re not careful on how you configure the phone and how you use it, you may have a tremendous bill. It seems that Cingular reps are telling customers that they’re using the wrong plan when and where they can. Some have a clue, many don’t.
PDA Connect: This is the plan that is supposed to be selected for the Cingular 8125. It’s the lowest level of Cingular’s business data connect plans. Unlike MediaNet, it doesn’t include any text or instant messages so you are charged a dime per unless you also add a MEdia plan. With a voice plan, it’s $39.99 month for unlimited access. You can use the isp.cingular address for your EDGE/GPRS connection, with or without Cingular’s proxy settings. Here’s the catch on this plan: If you use your phone as a USB modem for your laptop (also known as tethering) then you will be charged per byte. Laptop connect is only on the much more expensive plans (around $80 per month). I bring this up because this review from PC Magazine says:
EDGE performance was excellent on Cingular’s network. I got download speeds ranging from 117 to 182 Kbps using Pocket Internet Explorer and using the 8125 as a USB modem for a Dell laptop.
Now, it’s likely the reviewer already had a Laptop Connect plan on her wireless number since she tests multiple devices, but it’s very unlikely that anyone reading this review does. I will be sending her a link to this entry. She really needs to be clearer on this. It’s not even an option to add to the phone without going through a Cingular customer service representative. Yes, you can use an 8125 as a modem…but those per-byte charges add up and Cingular does not give you any kind of warning…on the phone, in the box, or on your account screen…that you are racking up the bucks until the day of reckoning (the monthly bill) arrives.
You have to dig into Cingular’s Explanation of Rates and Charges for Current Cingular Customers which is buried at the bottom of their Data Plan page to read (bolding mine):
CINGULAR DATA CONNECT UNLIMITED PLANSADDITIONAL IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The Data Connect $79.99 and PDA Connect plans may only be used with approved, certified devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing, (ii) email, and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force and field service automation). The plans may not be used with server devices or with host computer applications. Such prohibited uses include, but are not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, continuous JPEG file transfers, automatic data feeds, telemetry applications, automated functions or any other machine-to-machine applications. The plans may not be used to provide full-time connections, including without limitation, private lines or frame relay. Cingular PDA Connect plan: may only be used with compatible palmOne Tungsten W, palmOne Treo, Siemens SX56/66, Motorola MPx200/220, Audiovox 4100 or similar Cingular-certified devices provided that the device is not being used as a modem with other equipment (e.g., computers or ruggedized handhelds) through use of connection kits, other phone/PDA-to-computer accessories, Bluetooth or other wireless technology.
So there you have it…while the Cingular 8125 can physically and technically be used as a modem, the unlimited plan you probably have doesn’t allow for it. And you can’t buy a Laptop Connect plan easily (for $80 per month, why would you want to?).
And even if a customer is on the right plan, Cingular’s billing is still run by hamsters on a wheel. Check out what greeted me when I went to check my bill online yesterday after my first full month with the PDA Connect plan:
A heart attack is a nice way to start a Saturday morning, don’t you think?
It appears that even though I was on the correct unlimited PDA Connect plan, something somewhere went wrong and I was charged for every byte of those 41 MB I consumed last month. First thing I was asked was if I used the phone as a modem. The answer was the truth: no. I have enough trouble right now with ActiveSync, I didn’t want to do anything that had the potential of disabling my computer’s connection to the wired or wireless Internet. Just isn’t worth it. When I want to go online with the phone, I use the phone. The folks at Cingular don’t know what went wrong but they agree it’s wrong and the charge is being reversed.