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Airtel Apple Delhi India iPhone

Apple iPhone on Airtel India Minus GPRS

Well, I’ve been trying for almost a whole week to get Airtel‘s Unlimited GPRS service (or Mobile Office as it’s called on their site) setup. Unfortunately, all the SMS confirmation messages telling me that it is setup and will cost Rs. 499/month for unlimited usage were all bogus.

I’ve confirmed that even though my iPhone shows the “E” implying an EDGE/GPRS connection, the service isn’t really activated. I’ve used the new Airtel SIM card in my Apple iPhone (which is unsupported by Airtel) and also a Nokia E61 (which is supported). It doesn’t work on either phone. I then even tried to put the SIM into a USB EDGE/GPRS device and configure it on my Mac Mini but still no luck.

I believe Airtel’s setup process for GPRS is a manual one. That’s one of the reasons it will take 4 hours to setup the service. 4 Hours have turned into almost 144 hours and countless phone calls to both 121 (customer service) and 12118 (technical support). 12118 tells me that it’s not active and 121 sometimes tells me that it is active, other times they tell me they’ve put in a request to have it activated, and other times they’ve told me that it is active. The support on Airtel’s mobile desk is fairly horrendous as compared to their excellent service for their DSL and landline products.

In New Delhi, at least, you must send the following SMS to 121 from your Airtel phone:

STARTGPRS

I’ve heard that “AGPRS” also works but in my case, neither SMS messages nor telephone calls have actually gotten the service activated.

Once you receive a confirmation message, you can go into your settings and setup the APN as shown below:

Though, the confirmation messages haven’t helped me, it doesn’t have anything to do with the iPhone. It only has to do with Airtel’s inability to get the service fully activated. The process appears to be a two-part manual process and one service rep let it slip that only the first part has been done, hence, I’m getting the “E” on my iPhone but no actual service.

My only advice is to keep hounding them to get the service activated and, if possible, use an Airtel supported handset while asking them to activate the service. If you tell them you’re using an iPhone, their eyes will glaze over and you’ll get the ole heev-ho.

I’ll post updates as they become available.

Update: 29th April, 2008
Airtel was able to finally get it right. It took them 9 days and countless phone calls plus SMSes and a little bit of strong-arming to get them to put me on the phone with a floor supervisor but the supervisor finally got GPRS (Mobile Office) setup on my account. The access point name (APN) on my iPhone is set to airtelgprs.com. All I had to do was turn the iPhone off and back on to get it to work once the service was activated. I just hope some bonehead over there doesn’t turn the service off again …

Update: 5th May, 2008
Airtel has done it again and “automatically” disconnected my Mobile Office GPRS connection. They couldn’t give me any explanation except “the status is wrong”. Even after pressing the supervisor for an explanation, I got nothing. They’re telling me they will resolve the problem in 24 hours, an unacceptable amount of time for “automatically” disabling my service without any notice. As happy as I’ve been with Airtel’s DSL service, I am immensely disappointed with their mobile service. The incompetence continues ….

Update 2: 5th May, 2008
It took Airtel a little over 6 hours but Mobile Office GPRS is working again….for now.

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Misc.

Nokia E61 Review

I did a firmware upgrade based on some of the issues I was having. The firmware upgrade process is well documented here and ran flawlessly. I just had to get a Windows PC to do it ( I can’t wait for OTA firmware upgrades ). People have talked about backing up their settings and reimporting them after the firmware upgrade but I decided to take a safer approach. I recreated all my settings manually to avoid importing some funky settings that could potentially clash with the new firmware.

I’ve had some issues with the phone such as the limitation of not being able to auto retrieve email for more than 2 mail boxes. I can’t imagine why Nokia placed this limitation.

I can’t say that upgrading the firmware was a good idea. It appears to have fixed some old bugs but created new bugs. I never had to reboot the phone by pulling out the battery but I’ve had to do that today for the first time. I came out of the subway and when I tried to connect to the mail server, it hung up the phone. The E61 has issues with switching connections from Wifi to GPRS. Going from WiFi to GPRS and back to WiFi is probably asking for too much. People on the E-Series Blog have complained about many things such as coming out of the Subway in NYC and having to restart the phone, sometimes with a hard boot by pulling out the battery. This could be a Cingular related problem.

Another major quirk that Nokia needs to fix is that when you enter an area where there is no WiFi or GPRS service, all automatic email retrieval settings automatically get disabled. You have to manually go and enable them.
I’ve also noticed that the Nokia E61 has considerable problems remembering which “Access Point” or “Access Point Group” has been specified in the “Connection Settings” for the various email accounts I have setup. I would expect that a Smartphone should automatically put all packet data and WiFi data retrieval to sleep when there is no network coverage at all and it would remember settigns that have been specified, rather than picking the last “successful” method of connecting to the Internet. An “Airplane” mode, if you will.

The signal strength is not as good as my Motorola SLVR either. The Nokia E61 will get three or four bars in places where my SLVR would get 5. In the basement of some buildings, my SLVR would get one or two bars but the E61 doesn’t get a signal at all.

Having bashed the phone, let me tell you what I like. The phone is light and thin. It’s really not much thicker than the SLVR, though it is much wider.

The screen is beautiful. It’s bright and crisp. The keyboard is better than the Treo 650 but it’s still not great. There are enough keyboard shortcuts available to get things done quickly but it would be nice to be able to customize those shortcuts even more.

Though Nokia doesn’t provide support for synching the E61 with Apple OS X, there is a iSynch plugin available that will allow you to flawlessly synch your Nokia E61 with Apple OS X. Check out the post and discussion here for more information. I am using the plugin available here which I found out about here.

I’ve gotten a few applications running, including an SSH client and a RSS reader, Widsets.

The music player and video player is pretty good and I’ve upgraded the 64MB MiniSD to a 2GB Sandisk Ultra II MiniSD from Newegg. I still miss synching my SLVR with iTunes to get all my podcasts on the go but this really isn’t the phone for that. I might look around for some decent headphones to use with the E61 and put my podcasts on here to listen to.

Nokia E61 Back

Nokia E61 Back Side

Nokia E61 Keypad

Nokia E61 Keyboard View

Motorola SLVR L7 Compare to Nokia E61 - 1

Nokia E61 behind Motorola SLVR L7 – 1

Motorola SLVR L7 Compare to Nokia E61 - 2

Nokia E61 behind Motorola SLVR L7 – 2

Motorola SLVR L7 Compare to Nokia E61 - 3

Nokia E61 behind Motorola SLVR L7 – 3

Update: The WiFi is for all intents and purposes, DEAD and useless to me. I wish there was some sort of logging mechanism to see exactly how much data is being transferred through a specific WiFi AP. Also, it would be great if Nokia would add a default Access Point or Access Point Group option for ALL applications. Individual applications could override this if necessary but at least users wouldn’t have to set up an AP or APG for each application. Thirdly, can someone at Nokia please fix the craziness with the mail application? The mail application intermittently “forgets” the APG settings when it can’t connect to any APs in a group and I have to reset them at least once a day.

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India

Internet Access in India and the Nokia E61

A little background on how I was led to the Nokia E61. Back in April, I had picked up a Motorola SLVR L7 and have been pretty happy listening to my favorite podcasts on it.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to be taking a trip to India and needed Internet connectivity consistently. I tried finding out from people in India, websites, and well known blogs like GigaOM on the best method of WiFi connectivity in multiple cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Delhi. Most places I didn’t even get a reply from but a few people in India told me that WiFi hotsopts aren’t as prevalent as the ubiquitious T-Mobile hotspots at Starbucks in the US. For example, Tata Indicom (in collaboration with VSNL) has a Wifi service but from their website, I can only find one or two hotspots in most major cities ( Mumbai and Bangalore are exceptions – both have many access points ).

I soon realized that my best chance of having some kind of consistent Internet access was using mobile phone technology. Many people recommended Reliance Infocomm.

Reliance is a CDMA based mobile phone service offered through most of India. Reliance has been a very cost effective alternative to the GSM based technology that has been most prevalent in India ( Read some reviews on Reliance Infocomm ). My problem was that I would have to buy a CDMA phone ( or rent ) that I would use whil I was there. I couldn’t use the phone back in the states or really any other part of the world that I would travel to. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled at wasting the money on a phone that I would use for a very short time.

I dug around on the web a bit and took a look at some more of the mobile carriers in India. Hutch, Bharti Airtel, are two of the larger national carriers that I came across. If you think mobile plans and prepaid plans in the US require a PhD to understand, well, you haven’t looked at the possibilities from Indian mobile carriers. To understand the most cost effective postpaid or prepaid plan you will need a team of Internatioanl PhDs. Here are the prepaid plans available on Hutch ( you’ll need to look at all the possible offers as well to really understand what is best for you ) and Bharti Airtel.

For voice, I think that Bharti Airtel has a better offering. However, BA has no EDGE access. They are using straight GPRS from what I can see on their website. They have a nicely laid out map of all their value added services.

Bharti Airtel Value Added Services

Hutch on the other hand, has slightly higher calling rates but offers EDGE access either using an EDGE PCMCIA card in your laptop, or via your phone. This sounds like it could suit my needs pretty well, at least until I figure out a high speed alternative for using my MacBook while traveling. Hutch EDGE Screenshot

I continued looking at other services like MTNL’s Dolphin, SPICE and IDEA but it appeared that SPICE and IDEA were very limited in network coverage and MTNL’s Dolphin service and charge description was so difficult to follow, I just gave up.

Now, I’m back to Hutch and Bharti as my two primary phone and Internet carriers during my travel. I have a sleek, sexy Motorola SLVR L7 that has Bluetooth, synchs up very nicely with my MacBook, though I still haven’t figured out exactly how to use it as a bluetooth modem. The SLVR, unfortunately, doesn’t have EDGE support so my speeds in India are going to be miserably slow. Not to mention, I will have to carry around my MacBook everywhere I go. I decided to look into a smart phone that has bluetooth and EDGE support. It would be nice to have WiFi along with UMTS and HSDPA but my options are very limited. I was, therefore, looking for a phone with the following functions:

  • Quad Band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM for global connectivity
  • Uncrippled Bluetooth
  • QWERTY Keyboard
  • EDGE/GPRS Support
  • 802.11b/g WiFi
  • Replaceable Storage – Secure Digital/MiniSD/MicroSD
  • Expandable through thirdparty applications
  • IMAP/POP3 Support

Things that would be nice to have:

  • 1MP or better camera
  • Video Camera
  • MP3 Player
  • MP3 Player that synchs up with iTunes
  • Lightweight and Slim form factor

I tried using the Treo 650 over a year ago and hated the phone. It’s bluetooth was horrible and they keyboard was so small, it was impossible to really type effectively on it. The Treo 700/750 hasn’t been widely available for GSM yet so I kept looking to the most obvious choice, Blackberry. I wasn’t thrilled about spending the monthly Blackberry connection fee that most carriers charge. The fee to use your Blackberry is typically much higher than just having unlimited GPRS/EDGE access. I kept looking around and came across the Nokia E61. The phone had most of what I wanted but it wasn’t yet released in the US. I looked around on eBay and found a store near by that had the phone for $350 all in. I picked up a Nokia E61 a few days before Labor Day and have been playing with it for the last three weeks.

I will provide an overview of my experience with the Nokia E61 in a separate post.

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