Home > Bluetooth, Windows > Tutorial: Using your phone as a Bluetooth modem in Windows Vista

Tutorial: Using your phone as a Bluetooth modem in Windows Vista


In the past I’ve used my laptop as a Bluetooth LAN router, so that I could access the internet at home with my phone (which doesn’t have any WLAN capability), mainly to hear streaming audio in my headphones walking around the house without having to pay for 3G network access or a Bluetooth headset.

This article will take a look at the opposite problem – using your phone as a Bluetooth modem so that your PC or laptop can access the internet via your phone’s data connection (HSDPA, 3G/UMTS, EDGE or GPRS) – specifically, in Windows Vista.

Why would you want to do this? At home, you probably won’t, unless you’re waiting for your shiny new broadband line to be installed. I see the main use of this technique as a replacement to PC cards and integrated 3G modules in laptops and tablet PCs, where you want always-on internet access wherever you are, even where there are no wifi hotspots. Wifi hotspots aren’t particularly convenient, and nor is taking the SIM card out of your phone to plug it into your notebook every time you want to surf the web. Setting up your phone as a Bluetooth modem will let you keep it in your purse, still be able to make voice calls and send SMS, and give you always-on internet on your notebook wherever you have a signal on your phone, most importantly without wires, which is perfect for when you’re strolling around on the Oslo underground reading the news on your tablet 🙂

Why I did this

I was going to buy a new notebook soon – probably a tablet PC that I’ll be walking around Norway with – with Vista installed. I wanted to see if I could get my phone to work as a Bluetooth modem so that I could remove integrated 3G access or a 3G PC card from my list of requirements.

What you’ll need

  • A PC or (more likely) notebook running Windows Vista, with integrated Bluetooth support or a Bluetooth module installed (Windows XP will work just as well but I’m only going to talk about Vista in this article).
  • A data-connected (GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA) cellphone with Bluetooth capability. UMTS (“3G”) is probably the minimum you need for meaningful web surfing, with a top speed of about 460kbps. HSDPA will take you upto 1.8Mbps with the possibility of 3.6Mbps and 7.2Mbps connections in the future.
  • A flat-rate data plan! The cost of data transfer adds up really fast. Make sure you’re not paying by the Megabyte, especially if like me you listen to alot of streaming audio.

My hardware

For this exercise I used a standard workstation PC running Vista Ultiamte 32-bit edition, a D-Link DBT-122 USB Bluetooth adapter and a Nokia N70 (N-series) phone connected to Norway’s NetCom network. I’ll give some hints for the quirks of these particular devices, but the overall procedure will be about the same for most Bluetooth adapters and phones.

Figure 1

Step 1. Undo your mistakes

Bluetooth driver support on Vista is pretty shaky at the time of writing, so you may well have done what I did: pick up your Bluetooth adapter driver CD and install the XP drivers. Apparently this doesn’t work too well – if you were expecting My Bluetooth Places to appear on your desktop, you may be disappointed. Bluetooth Devices are now managed in Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound (see Figure 1); if you installed an XP driver, you might find that the driver appears under Bluetooth Adapters in Device Manager, but that Bluetooth Devices doesn’t appear in Control Panel.

If this happens to you, right-click the adapter in Device Manager and choose Uninstall. It should appear in Other Devices as an Unknown Device. Remove the adapter from your machine and reboot Vista (if you don’t do this the next steps will fail with a ‘Device is marked for deletion’ error).

Step 2. Install Bluetooth Radio driver

If you have a Vista-compatible driver for your Bluetooth adapter, install it now! Otherwise, follow the steps below to coax non-compatible devices like my D-Link DBT-122 to play nice with Vista:

Figure 2

  1. Open Device Manager and plug in the device. It will probably appear in Other Devices as an Unknown Device. Right-click on it and choose Update Driver…
  2. If you are given the choice from a list of device types, choose Bluetooth Radios, not Bluetooth Adapters!
  3. Scroll down to GenericAdapter on the left and choose Generic Bluetooth Adapteron the right (see Figure 2). Click Next and the driver will install.
  4. Assuming this works (and if it didn’t for you, please post your experience below to share with others), you should see a balloon in the system tray, which will show a window like the one in Figure 3 when you click on it (the list of devices shown may vary with your hardware).

    Figure 3

  5. Check in Device Manager for the new devices. You should see something like that in Figure 4. Notice the adapter is shown under Bluetooth Radios, not under Bluetooth Adapters. The items in the Network Adapters sub-tree show some of the protocols your Bluetooth device supports.

Figure 4

Step 3. Configure your phone (if applicable)

What to do here varies by phone and may be optional. The idea is to make the computer connect to your phone via Bluetooth. If you have Nokia PC Suite installed, the steps are below.

  1. Right-click Nokia PC Suite in the system tray or start it up, and choose Manage Connections.
  2. Tick Bluetooth (Microsoft) in the list. For me this never used to work until I installed my Bluetooth adapter as a Generic Adapter as described above, it would either say “No modem found!” or tell me I had no compatible Bluetooth stack installed. If this happens to you, check that Bluetooth Devices is visible in Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound. If it isn’t, your Bluetooth adapter isn’t installed properly and you won’t be able to proceed any further.
  3. Click Configure… The software will look for your phone (make sure your phone is switched on, Bluetooth is switched on and set to be ‘Visible to all’ or ‘Discoverable’ in the Bluetooth configuration options on your phone).
  4. When your phone is found, you’ll be prompted to type a numerical passkey. Enter this on your PC; your phone will then prompt you to enter the same number. Do so, and the PC and phone will be connected, and you should see a message on your PC indicating this.

I tested this on Nokia PC Suite 6.83. If it’s not working for you, try upgrading to the latest version at Nokia’s Support site.

Step 4. Create a new internet connection on your PC

Before you do this, there’s a couple of things you need to do.

First, acquire the logon information (phone number, username and password) you need to connect to your phone company’s data network. This can usually be found on your phone company’s web site, or by a quick Google search (I typed netcom gprs dial-up into Google for my phone company NetCom, and got the information on the first page). The details are the same for all users of the network and are not subscriber-specific.

Second, disconnect from the internet. Right-click your network connection and choose Disconnect.

Figure 5

Network connections are made in Vista by going to Control Panel -> View network status and tasks (under Network and Internet) -> Set up a connection or network (left-hand pane). When you click this link, you’ll get a window like the one in Figure 5.

You’ll notice a couple of options: “Set up a dial-up connection” and “Connect to a Bluetooth personal area network (PAN)” (the latter only shows if your phone supports PAN access). Some phones require you to use the dial-up option, others require the PAN option, others work with both. At the time of writing, I believe dial-up is more commonly used so I won’t talk about PAN here.

Choose “Set up a dial-up connection” and click Next. If you’re told that no dial-up modem was found, then your Bluetooth phone doesn’t support operation as a Bluetooth modem, or your Bluetooth adapter isn’t installed properly. I had this problem at first so make sure you’ve followed all the steps above carefully. Virtually all phones with Bluetooth will work as Bluetooth modems.

Enter the network details and type in a name for the connection, which can be any descriptive name you like. For the record, the network details for NetCom GPRS/EDGE/UMTS are:

Phone number: *99#
User name: gprs
Password: gprs

Again, check with your network provider for the right information to enter here.

Click Connect and after a couple of minutes you should be on the internet! Now give it a test run in your browser to make sure it works properly. You may find yourself waiting at the “Registering your computer on the remote network” stage for a minute or two before anything happens. Be patient!

How well does it work?

Back to my original intended use of having the phone in my pocket or bag while using the web on a laptop, here were the non-scientifically-measured speeds I got in a UMTS/3G area:

With the phone on my table: 40k/sec
With the phone in my pocket: 45k/sec
With the phone in the next room (approx. 4 metres): 33k/sec (further away led to disconnection)
With the phone directly next to the Bluetooth adapter: 42k/sec

So as you can see, there is no performance deficit by having the phone concealed in your pocket, and no wires to boot.

I’ve written this blog article (including uploading the pictures) on the Bluetooth connection from my PC as a test, my radio station Deviant Audio (now defunct) has been streaming at 192kbps for 85 minutes with no problems and my phone reports a total transfer of about 150MB.

Conclusion

Coaxing your phone to work as a Bluetooth modem will give you always-on internet almost anywhere if you have your phone and notebook with you, with no need to buy a 3G add-on for your notebook and with no messy wires, which means if you have a tablet PC, you can use it one-handed while you’re standing up.

Bluetooth configurations are many and varied so you might have to follow slightly different steps to those above. Please post your experiences below!

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