Light as a Tether, Stiff as a Motherboard: The Art of Tapping Free Wireless Internet

I think most traveling professionals would agree: Thumbing e-mail replies on-the-fly in another country, on a foreign network, is a gargantuan pain in the @$$. When I arrive in a new city and check into a hotel where the wireless is less than divine, and I collapse backwards in dramatic fatigue onto a bed that isn’t even mine—the last thing I want to do is reach over and “thumb-cuddle” with my Blackberry.


<Groans, string-of-expletives> But I know that I have to. My inbox is imploding, my machine is freaking out, squealing and blinking rouge. The hotel conference center is closed. It’s Siesta in Spain or Hiatus in Haifa. Whatever and wherever, the realization is equally grim: It’s me and Little QWERTY. Or nada.

I have remained a loyal customer of Research-In-Motion (RIM) for years—from the first Blackberry in all its black-and-green-screen glory to the miniature wonder they now call the Curve—but their devices are suffering some severe anorexia these days. And so are their keyboards. The media has got me all in a tizzy over looming threats of Carpal Tunnel or Restless Thumb, or whatever Syndrome is just “so hot right now.” So what’s a desperate e-junkie to do?

Here’s a little secret your cell phone provider would rather you not know: You can “tether” your way to the web by leveraging your precious Game-Boy-For-Grownups as a wireless modem. Full-fledged internet through your blackberry means we can all breathe a sigh of relief, gather our volumes of poetic e-mail prose and stretch all ten digits across the sprawling expanse of our 17-inch laptop keyboards--without ever paying fifteen bucks a day again. Tethering is, at least for the moment, FREE.{module 226}

Sold yet? Here’s how to do it:

  1. You need a Windows computer (sorry, fruit-lovers, you’ll have to go an alternate route), a USB cable and a Blackberry from the Common Era. Connect all three. (I‘m not overstating the obvious, I have gotten that question before…)

  2. Download and install the Blackberry Desktop Software. Get it here.

  3. Once installed, run the Desktop Software. The Handheld Manager will be activated.

  4. On Windows XP, Vista or 7, navigate to the Control Panel and where your Network Settings are housed. Set up a “New Connection” which will be a mock-dial-up reserved specifically for tethering through your Berry. IMPORTANT: Through this process, you will be required to enter some details specific to your wireless carrier. Check here for a complete list.  Or Google something like: “Blackberry tether, T-Mobile” or “Tethering Blackberry 8700g, Sheistkopf Wireless.”

Final notes:

  • Make sure you have an unlimited, international data plan. It might cost a few bucks more per month, but if you do the math, it still adds up to less than a couple hours at Starbucks. No unlimited plan? DO. NOT. TETHER. Trust me.
  • If you are technologically challenged, you can buy third-party software (like Tether or Tetherberry) to make life easier, but some are commercial, so any savings you would have seen through tethering will evaporate instantly.
  • You can use Bluetooth to connect your Blackberry to your computer instead of USB, although in general, hard-lining still rules.
  • Check network coverage at your destination to make sure that sufficient cell tower power is serving the area. If you are roaming, try and identify all major service providers in case you need to run a manual network scan.

TEST the tethering situation before you take off for the far reaches of the globe, please. I once trusted Serendipity en route to Slovenia, only later to discover in the comfort of my hostel room that the Blackberry Software didn’t install...To rectify the situation, my computer needed internet access. Couldn’t get that without The. Blackberry. Desktop. Software. Talk about a chicken-or-egg problem. Either way, the hen was f---ed -- and so were my thumbs -- for two, very long weeks.