Thursday, March 06, 2008

How To Get 3G On The Apple iPhone

Can I get 3G data & 3G speed on my 1st generation iPhone & is it comparable to cable or DSL broadband?

Can I upgrade or mod my 1st generation iPhone to get 3G?

The answer is ... there's no need to hack your iPhone to get 3G. There's no need to install software on your iPhone. There's no need to disassemble or modify it - just follow the steps below.


For essentially $200.00* in cost - you can get a USB Sierra Wireless 881U modem and a cellular to WiFi router from CradlePoint. The CradlePoint CTR-350 has a USB port that allows connection to a USB cellular 3G modem such as the Sierra Wireless 881U and in turn converting the signal received by that modem into an 802.11g WiFi wireless signal.

There are routers that are available that convert PCMCIA / Cardbus Cards & Express Cards that connect to 3G/Cellular Data networks as well ... but not all Apple computers have such slots (including my black MacBook or the new MacBook Air). I also thought that if I wanted to make my travel a bit easier and lighter - I could carry just the modem. If I had a PCMCIA, CardBus, or ExpressCard modem; I couldn't use it with my MacBook.

Besides, it seems to me, that as of the writing of this article that the 3G/EDGE ExpressCard & PC Card to WiFi routers are a few hundred dollars more than the CradlePoint solution.

Here's some "spec-speak" from the CradlePoint website:

The CTR-350 creates a Secure WiFi Hotspot from broadband-enabled cellular phones & modems.

Enjoy the simplicity & convenience of WiFi without having to search around for a hotspot and without risking a non-secure connection.


Built-in firewall and secure chat allows you or your group to work securely while protecting your bandwidth. WEP & WPA encryption meet strict IT standards for WiFi security.


Easy-to-set-up sharing for friends and colleagues.


• A WiFi extension to Cellular Broadband
• Compliant with IEEE 802.11 b/g Standards
• Tethers to Cellular USB modems for WiFi access to 3G/EDGE
• Compact & portable
• Charges handset via USB or powers USB modem
• 10/100 Ethernet port available for wired uplink when available
• Added firewall prevents unauthorized use of your cellular connection

If you have 3G in your area, the 3G to Wifi solution is a perfect way to get ultra-fast speeds on the iPhone accessing the 3G network by WiFi instead of using the EDGE network with the built-in iPhone EDGE / GPRS radio. This solution also saves your battery usage AND most importantly DOES NOT affect the iPhone's ability to receive calls. Most calls (on the iPhone) will be sent directly to voice mail if an iPhone user is on the internet, using an EDGE connection for stocks, weather and maps, or checking email.

What's the catch?

Well ... there is a slight catch. You must subscribe to a 3G/EDGE unlimited monthly data plan from AT&T. This costs me (with my current cellular plan) an additional $39.99 a month - which is very competitive with a Charter cable modem bill.

Recently, I switched to AT&T's Unlimited Monthly plan for $99.99. I must also pay the required iPhone data plan rate of $20.00 a month. This makes my total bill $159.98 + tax. (Roughly $171.00 a month in the US). You may be able to reduce this cost if you don't need the unlimited plan.

Why did I make this move?

First ... until this solution, Charter Cable was just about the only viable broadband service available in my area. I loathe Charter. I have expressed my distaste many times here on this site for them.

I would get DSL installed, but really DSL in my area doesn't hold a candle to the speeds of a cable modem ... the 3G to WiFi solution as I have discovered and discussed here, is a solution to many of my issues, provides me with one unified bill, and frees me from the tyranny of Charter cable.

With a car adapter, I'm also able to go on the road and access the internet not only with my iPhone at 3G speeds, but also with my MacBook.

The solution also does not require any additional software to be installed on my Mac if I don't want to. The Sierra Watcher program (which is a slight bit buggy) is only required if you plug the Sierra Wireless Modem directly into the Mac's USB port. The CradlePoint router has software built into the device that autodials/connects to your 3G data service provider.

While a router can be purchased directly from CradlePoint for $159.99 + shipping and handling; I purchased mine from an eBay seller named CellGuru.

CellGuru preloaded the latest firmware and shipped my router very fast. I paid $120.00 + $9.95 shipping & handling.

* At the time of this writing AT&T is offering the Sierra Wireless 881U USB Cellular Data Modem for $149.99 with a $100.00 mail in rebate.

* CradlePoint offers OTHER modems for Cellular to WiFi connections that may better suit your needs.

* Note that as of 3/6/08 the United States has about 55% 3G coverage with 70% promised by June 2008 and 75% by December 2008.

* This solution is also viable for USB Cellular EVDO 3G modems from providers like Sprint & Verizon

digg story

[UPDATE] Reader JensonB came up with a great idea ...

Turn an iPod Touch into an iPhone (the SDK does not restrict VOIP by the way):

JensonB: "You've now put the idea of using it to serve mobile internet to my iPod touch too."


For more information about this topic from this BLOG see:

Wireless Broadband And Get Rid Of Cable?

AT&T Unlimited Plan Includes iPhone

Apple Could ... But Apple Isn't / More About Why The iPhone Doesn't Have 3G

About AT&T's LIMITED Unlimited Plan



Paul Douglas said...

Hmm...I was planning on getting Mobile Broadband for my two notebooks when I buy them this year (Eee and MacBook)...You've now put the idea of using it to serve mobile internet to my iPod touch too. Cheers Philip :D

FYT said...

"You've now put the idea of using it to serve mobile internet to my iPod touch too. "

JensonB ... THAT was an awesome "line of thinking" ... I'm adding that to the article.