Connecting to the Net over Airtel GPRS

My new job requires me to travel quite a bit, and one of things that really bugged me about it was the lack of net access when away from home. Step 1, towards curing this problem was purchasing a laptop. Since I had already spent more than what I could afford on the laptop, I just could not afford to spend another Rs. 3,000 on a data card. Which meant that I had to find another way of connecting to the net. My thoughts obviously turned to connecting to the Internet using my mobile phone, a well used Nokia 7710.

Unfortunately, using your mobile phone to connect to the net is not as easy as is shown in the advertisements. So, this is a short tutorial on how to connect to the net using a mobile phone. Note that most of the instructions in this tutorial apply to Nokia phones on the Airtel network. However, the procedure is very similar for all mobile phones.

What You Will Need

  1. A computer (duh!)
  2. A mobile phone
  3. A working mobile phone connection, with GPRS activated. Note that this is not the same as WAP. Airtel calls this a 'Mobile Office' connection.
  4. Some method of connecting your phone to the computer. A data cable works best, but you can also connect the two over Bluetooth if your computer supports it.

Step #1 - Installing the Drivers and Software

Before you can connect to the Internet, you need to install your phone's drivers on the computer so that the computer can recognize your phone and talk to it. Nokia (and Sony-Ericsson) usually supplies these drivers on a CD with the phone when you purchase it.

If possible, you should download the latest drivers from the phone manufacturer's site. Nokia users can download the Nokia PC Suite, which provides the drivers as part of a package of tools to synchronize your phone with the computer. You can also choose to download just the drivers.

Follow the instructions specific to your phone to install the drivers. Usually you need to install the drivers before you connect the data cable and phone to the computer.

Step #2 - Setting Up The Connection

You have two options to connect to the Internet:

  1. Nokia One Touch Access, or
  2. Windows Dial-Up Networking

Whatever method you choose to use, you first need to connect your phone to the computer. Connect the data cable to your phone, then connect the other end of the cable to your computer's USB port. It's a good idea to keep using the same USB port every time to connect your phone. If you don't, Windows goes through a whole auto-detect and driver install routine that just takes too long. After connecting the data-cable, wait for a moment until you get a message saying that Windows has detected the cable.

Now (finally), you're ready to connect to the Internet.

Connecting using Nokia One Touch Access

Connecting to the Internet using Nokia One Touch Access is very easy. Start the Nokia PC Suite software. On the main screen, click on the icon labeled 'Connect to the Internet'.

Nokia PC Suite

Note: Windows Vista users, before performing this step, you will need to enable Administrative rights to this software or else it will not allow you to set up a connection.

To do this, navigate to the Nokia PC Suite folder. This is usually in C:\Program Files\Nokia\Nokia PC Suite 6. Right click on the file called 'OneTouchAccess' , then click on the 'Properties' option. On the OneTouchAccess Properties window that opens up, click on the 'Compatibility' tab. Enable the check box labeled 'Run this program as an administrator' and then click on the 'OK' button.

OneTouchSettingsOnce the One Touch Access window opens up, you need to click on the button labeled 'Settings'.

Ensure that your phone is listed in the drop-down box of the Settings dialog box, before clicking the 'Next' button.

On the next screen, you are prompted to choose your network operator. Select 'AirTel India' (or whatever mobile operator you might be using. BSNL, Hutch and IDEA are all listed), then click on the 'Finish' button.

OneTouchAccess You will return to the One Touch Access screen where you simply click on the 'Connect' button to connect to the Internet.

If for some reason, you are not able to connect to the Internet using the standard settings, you can manually specify the settings to connect (I had to do this the first time I connected. Later, the software inexplicably would get connected even with the default Airtel settings).

To manually specify the connection settings, click on the 'Settings' button on the main One Touch Access screen. Select your phone on the next screen and click on 'Next'. On the 'Select Network Operator' screen, choose the option to 'Configure the connection manually', then click 'Next' again.


Type in as the Access Point. Leave the Username and Password fields empty, then click on 'Finish' and try to connect again.

If configuring the network manually does not work, then try connecting to the Internet using Windows Dial-Up Networking, as described below.

Connecting using Windows Dial-Up Networking

As easy as it might be to connect to the Net using the Nokia One Touch Access wizard, I'd recommend using Windows Dial-Up Networking. Not only is it easier to access, but it also give somewhat better speeds (I don't know the technical reasons why this is so, this is just my experience).

I'm not going to give detailed instructions on how to set up a connection using Windows Dial-Up Networking, it is not too difficult and there are plenty of other better tutorials on the Net. you just need to keep the following points in mind.

  • You need to select your phone as the modem to connect to the Net.
  • The number you need to dial is *99#. Note that this is the number that Airtel customers need to dial. If you use some other mobile operator, call their tech-support line and ask them for this information.
  • Leave the username and password fields empty. Again, this is applicable only for Airtel customers, you need to get the details for other operators from their tech-support. However, as far as I know, no Indian mobile operator required the user to enter a username and password.

Once the connection has been set up, you simply need to double-click on it's icon to start it. It usually takes around 20-30 seconds from the time you click the 'Connect' button until the time you can use the Internet.

Price and Performance

The tariff plans for this connection are also very reasonable - just Rs. 350 per month. The best part is that you do not need to pay for the entire month, just for as long as you need it. Airtel postpaid customers just need to SMS "AGPRS" to 121 after which the service is automatically activated with a maximum of 4 hours. Once you've finished using the service, just SMS "DGPRS" to 121 to de-activate it. You'd just be charged around Rs. 12 per day for the GPRS service.

You need to keep in mind that connecting to the Internet is not meant to replace a broadband connection. Despite what all the various mobile operators claim, speeds on mobile phone remain woefully behind fixed-line connections. The speeds can best be compared to that of a (fixed-line) dial-up connection. However, this kind of a connection offers you virtually unlimited mobility since you can connect anywhere where a mobile operator has network presence. If you travel a lot and need a faster Internet connection, a much better choice would be a dedicated USB data card from Reliance or Tata Indicom.

All-in-all this is an excellent way to stay in touch when you are occasionally on the move and and need connectivity.

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