Vancouver Mobile Internet Blog

Well, not really a blog - I'm updating this as I find things rather than just appending to the bottom...
Note that details of services, data plans, coverage etc. are probably not up-to-date. The page was written in 2005 and only sporadically updated.

[Stage 1] [Stage 2] [Stage 3] [Coverage] [Gripes] [Gripes] [What Works] [What Didn't] [modem installation] [Star Lines] [Linux] [Dialup] [Cost] [Security] [Resources] [Mobile Web]

October 2010 Acquire Nokia E71 smartphone after losing the 6820 in August. In Victoria somewhere, maybe in the harbour. Some agonizing over a replacement that would do everything the 6820 would, but better - specifically, talk to the N810.

February 2008 Acquire Nokia N810 tablet

April 2007

May 2005 (updated Nov 2005)

OK, most things working:

  • Nokia 6820 + Internet (Windows)
  • Nokia 6820 + Linux
  • SMS to email
  • Email to SMS (with anti-spam "read me" loop, but you can put short messages in the "from" field...)
  • Email out via Rogers SMTP gateway
  • Reading email with IMAP
  • tinymail
  • Browsing HTML websites
  • Browsing WML websites
  • Download JPEGs
  • Download vCard to contact manager
  • Download vCalendar to phone calendar
    * note - needs Version 1.0 format, and content-type "text/x-vcalendar", not the newer "text/calendar"
  • Download MIDI file as ringtone
  • Upload files using HTTP
  • Talk to modem, check signal strength, cell ID
  • Transfer files to/from phone over USB
  • Download applications
  • IM+ instant messenger

How I got there...

April 2005

The goals:

  • To get a mobile Internet connection on a laptop, preferably under Linux, to develop a mobile application (geotags)
  • Ditto, to log in to TRIUMF from with SSH and fix problems
  • To play with cellphone-based Internet (WAP and HTML), and maybe develop some cellphone-accessible status displays for things like network security and data acquisition at TRIUMF
  • To play with cellphone-based email/SMS - see if it might replace a data pager for computer alerts
  • To replace my old analog "bag phone" - with battery, about the size and weight of a brick - with something I can put in my pocket and maybe even answer occasionally
  • To still have some cellular availability from Barkley Sound near Bamfield (don't think much of Google's map at the moment...), and generally on the water aroung Georgia Strait, Juan da Fuca, Port Renfrew etc.
  • To play with boating-related Internet stuff - weather news etc.
  • To generally play with cellphone apps, Froogle, whatever...

Stage 1, the brick

Where I am coming from. This is a Novatel analog cellphone, originally activated on Cantel (since bought by Rogers). It plugs into a 12V cigar lighter socket, and has the optional lead-acid gel cell battery. It can be configured for either 1W or 3W maximum transmit power, and works on either A or B analog cell networks (AMPS). Rogers is B as I recall. According to various sources e.g., this kind of phone might work at up to 150km from a tower. I never did that good, but I could pick up Ucluelet (Mount Ozzard) from Bamfield if there wasn't an island in the way, and pick up a US site near Cape Flattery from around Port Renfrew (though as I recall roaming was difficult since it was a B channel site and would not easily roam with Rogers).

Downside - insanely heavy, no data connection, and starting to lose it - the on/off button won't work (but it powers up OK when you plug it in), and it forgets it's supposed to be on the B network so you have to punch 10 keys of config every time.

Stage 2: Comparing the Networks

iFido is really fast (2Mbps download), and works with any O/S including Linux. But it's data only (well, VOIP I guess ...) and only works in Richmond. So, OK for testing mobile apps maybe (with an inverter to run the modem), but not much good for anything else, and the modem's kind of pricey.

Autotel is an analog system with extended coverage compared to cellphone. Probably covers Barkley Sound, logging roads etc.

Globalstar is a satellite system that covers all of Canada except the very high Arctic. Data is available at 9600 baud for, I think, about 3c/kB

Fido is a GSM system that basically operates in the city only. They offer (or did when I wrote this) GPRS data service on various plans including $50/month unlimited at " up to 56 kbps". Data packages
I was told that Rogers bought out Fido to stop Telus getting access to GSM spectrum on the cheap. Rogers GSM customers can automatically roam to Fido cells in the city, but Fido customers outside the city would have to pay roaming charges.

Rogers operates an analog network on channel B plus a GSM network on, I think, 850MHz, and also some TDMA digital (I think).

Telus Mobility operate an analog network on channel A plus a CDMA/1X digital network.

I didn't really look at Bell; I think they were later in this market. They seem to offer Aircard and WML (wireless web) support.


Many transmitter locations are available from Industry Canada's Technical and Administrative Frequency Lists (TAFL), viz.

These are fixed transmitter locations registered to the 3 cell carriers. However, as I now understand it, the actual PCS (cell tower) information is not publicly available. Many of these antennae are co-located with cellular antennae but transmit on a different band, and are probably used for internal trunk traffic.

From what I have read, analog may go up to 150km depending on power and what's in the way (legal power up to 3W, that is).
CDMA can go to 57km, and GSM (TDMA) can go to 35km from a tower. As I recall, if you go over this distance the round-trip time of around 230 microseconds means that the data packet collides with a packet in the next timeslot so it won't work no matter how powerful a transmitter you have. I may have got this wrong...


Rogers has this really annoying voice recognition system (codenamed "Melanie", I believe) on their customer service line. Maybe it can't handle my British accent, but I suspect it's just dumb. A typical conversation goes a bit like this:

Hello. I see you are calling from 604 222 1047. Do you wish to enquire about this cellphone account ?
I see you are calling from 604 222 1047. Do you wish to enquire about this cellphone account ?
I seem to be having some trouble understanding you. Please tell me the cellphone number you are enquiring about
604 377 ....
Was that 654 377 ...?
Please tell me the cellphone number you are enquiring about
you ***! idiotic machine!! burble burble rhubarb rhubarb...

and so on ... You can enter a cell number by pressing keys, but otherwise can't escape. I have to wait for it to give up.

Stage 3, Nokia 6820

So, after researching various options, bought a Nokia 6820 EDGE/GPRS phone from a Rogers store in Richmond. Which means I won't have to change plans, or numbers. Also bought a CA-42 USB cable from another store, and a cheap case (brand name case $30, generic $1.50 ...).

It seems Rogers will do the same handset swap as Telus - call customer service and get the phone number swapped for free. So, if I'm on the West Coast I can get the brick re-enabled. Someone says there is going to be a "big push" of building more coverage, so maybe they'll be a tower or two next time I'm there - it's not like Bamfield's the end of the world, after all; there's a school (with Internet access), marine research station (ironically, the terminus for the British Empire's 1800's "internet" - undersea telegraph), and a seasonal sport fishing industry.

Note: Nokia phones run two totally different operating systems - Nokia OS and Symbian - though you'd never know it from Rogers "phones" page. Does it make a difference - yes, if you want to write code for the phone itself, or install 3rd-party applications. And judging by posts to, not all phones are equal in terms of support, SDK availability, etc.


You buy a phone and it works, right ... Wrong!
My no-answer call forwarding from the analog phone broke when the sets were swapped, and I currently can't get it to work - *004*nnnnnnnnn# gives "request cannot be completed" or some such. The Windows modem software won't work, SMS email is bizarre, there's no escape key in the phone menus (pick OK or backspace), I can't access my account online, and Rogers customer service is closed in the evening when I'm trying to debug things.

Thank God (or rather, TimBL) for the Web - without it, things would be almost impossible instead of just difficult. The information is all over the place.

From the above, it seems this is a series 40 phone running Nokia OS. From some UK-based forum I found later, it seems it may be obsolete and replaced by the 6822, in which case it's a bit irritating to realize that I've been persuaded to sign up for a 3-year contract to get a subsidized price on an obsolete model. Still, most of it is (now) working for me, and the Qwerty keyboard is nicer than trying to type on a numeric pad - though you need tiny little fingers, a stylus, or long fingernails to use it. (I've got long fingernails...)

(later) Thanks Rogers, you fixed my call forwarding. Something not activated on the account that should have been.

(also later) Manage to log on to Rogers account online. Not sure what previous trouble was - spaces after account, dashes in account (as it was printed on bill), space after postcode. Who knows?

Minor Gripe: Rogers online billing is not real-time like my bank's, it's just a copy of the month-end statement. So, 4 weeks to build up to a nasty surprise, maybe ...

What Works

At the time of writing, lots of things work:
  • (Voice) Calling out
  • Receiving voice calls
  • Sending and receiving SMS to another PCS phone
  • Sending SMS to an email address
  • Getting an SMS from email to "". Now has an (anti-spam) loop - you must reply with the word "read" to the notification message in order to get the email. I saved "read" in a text template.
  • Connect to a regular webserver, view gzipped HTML, GIF, JPEG, BMP. But not MP3 - not sure why not; it's in the HTTP Accept parameter list. And not text/plain (weird...).
    • I had to configure the WAP username and password for this I think; they were not preconfigured as the text message gateway and APN was.
  • Download gzipped MIDI files, save as ringtone
  • Send sound clip and JPEG to email; image goes in HTML mail, sound goes in javascripted page on Roger's server (embedding didn't work for me, but I found the URL of the WAV file in the HTML source)
  • Logging in to IMAP server and retrieving mail
  • Sending mail to SMTP server. Didn't work for sending mail offsite as our server wants TLS and cellphone only does CRAM authentication.
    • OK, have now turned on LOGIN authentication (to get Outlook to work), and the 6820 can now send. However, it does not do SSL or TLS encryption, only unencrypted SMTP and IMAP
  • Taking photos (pretty useless camera - not about to replace my Kodak digital anytime soon)
  • Recording sound clips
  • File transfer to Windows using USB cable - except copyrighted ring tones and graphics. (people are weird - who'd want to copyright a ring tone, let alone buy one? Thousands of people, apparently ...)
  • Rogers desktop text app, under XP anyway. Uses SSL to connect so can't see what it's doing and write my own Linux app. There are no cell towers out at UBC near TRIUMF, and TRIUMF's buildings tend to have metal cladding, so cellphones won't work indoors. Have to register from PC, then take phone outside to receive password via SMS, then back inside to enter in in app. and try an test message, then back outside to receive it ...
(Later). Rogers tell me I can use outgoing SMTP. That works, thanks!

What didn't work (at least, not right away)

The modem. Major reason for buying this phone.

OK, I'm not a Windows user. Regard the next section as an example of what not to do:

Just getting the Windows software running is a pain:

  • Install USB drivers from CD that came with CA-42 cable
  • Download PC Suite from
  • Install PC Suite. It wants to reboot half way through and then continues to install. Also, it uses unverified drivers so you get lots of popups where Windows complains that it might not be safe.
  • Still no connection
  • Plug, unplug, re-plug USB cable.
  • Re-install PC suite. Install USB drivers from Reboot a few more times
  • USB drivers aren't actually installed. They are just parked somewhere on the hard drive. More plugging/unplugging/ starting app.
  • Finally, some popups about new hardware and would I like to install the drivers.
  • Say yes. More alerts about possibly unsafe unsigned drivers.
  • Discover CA-42 is listed as a "serial cable", not a "USB cable", although it has a USB connector on the end...
  • Finally, file transfer application works. But not modem.
  • Find documentation online that explains that modem drivers aren't installed by the install process, either. I have to go into Control Panel and configure modems.
  • OK, modems installed. Try dialling TRIUMF modem pool number. Get error 692 "hardware failure in modem".
  • Repeat entire process on another laptop running XP. Same error message
  • Find more documentation that says I should dial "*99#" for GPRS
  • Same error
  • Mail from Rogers Support, saying basically I should do what I did, plus an extra initialization string, which won't fit in the Win2000 modem properties box.
  • (Later) Mail from Nokia Support, saying that PC Suite had allocated the comm port so Windows couldn't find it to install a driver on it.

Have so far failed to create any software for the phone. Supposedly Java programs will work - except regular Jar files created with Sun's javac will not work. Got Nokia's J2ME development suite, which works in Linux with Java. Some midp examples can be loaded in to the phone and work - FormMIDlet, Chat and Boids. Others won't load - Hawk and Sheepdog, or won't run (midisampler). My feeble attempts to write "Hello World" fail, probably because stdout doesn't work and I'll have to use a display object. In principle, though, I ought to be able to write stuff that can do SMS, web access etc. Not sure what would be useful. Well, yes, an NTP client would be cool, and an SSH client useful, but those are probably beyond my coding skills and may well be too big - there is only a couple of Mb free, and Sheepdog was too big at 180kb.

(2007). Google Map download will not fit - not enough memory. There really isn't enough RAM in this phone for anything much, and it is segmented into program and data space (you can't use data memory, used for e.g. storing messages and pictures, to store programs).

What did work (modem installation)

Recipe for getting Nokia 6820 working with Windows 2000 laptop and CA-42 USB cable:
See Nokia 6820 + Internet

Yes! Got Linux working. Nokia 6820 + Linux

Asterisk Codes (Star Lines)

I thought I'd list these, having had some on a scrap of paper in the "brick" case for years. Funnily enough, I can't find them collated on the Web anywhere. These are all free calls.

Haven't tested all these. *67* finally worked; used to work on analog phone I think. Some codes from Rogers Wireless Guides - "Rogers_Wireless_UG.pdf" and "Calling_Services_EN.pdf" - but I can't remember where I got them from. Rogers website I'm pretty sure...
June 2012: updated U from Rogers FAQ
Also #nn# Temporarily Deactivate, *nn# Reactivate
*21*nnn nnn nnnn###21#*#21#Call Forward all calls U
*61*nnn nnn nnnn###61#*#61#30 second No Answer Transfer U
*62*nnn nnn nnnn###62#*#62#Not reachable U
*67*nnn nnn nnnn###67#*#67#Busy Transfer U
*63*nnn nnn nnnn##63#No Answer Transfer (TDMA)
*43##43#*#43#Call Waiting
#31#Caller ID block (GSM)
*611Rogers Wireless customer care
*233ADD - answers but discontinued U
*8463TIME - current time (timezone may be wrong) U
*2273CARD - bill payment by credit card
*4357HELP - customer service U
*7626ROAM - roaming information - customer service U
#11activate voicecommand
*16Coastguard (in BC)
*811Customer Service
*2886Auto Service
*011Overseas Calls
**0015KHz test tone
*690CBC Radio Traffic Desk
*1410CFUN Radio talk line
#4983Star FM Traffic Line
Phone Codes for 6820 - from howardforums and elsewhere
*#0000#Display Nokia Firmware Version
*#06#Display IMEI number
*#335738#Soft Reset

See also Nokia codes and secrets

AT Modem Codes, from Nokia documentation Terminal AT Commands Factory (modem)Settings
ATI0Display product code
ATI1Display IMEI
ATI2Display OS version
ATI4Date of manufacture ??
AT+CBCShow charge status
AT+CSQ?Show signal quality
AT+CREG?Show roaming status, cell location, cell ID
AT+CSCA?Show SMS gateway ??
AT&VView configuration

Linux Experience

USB modem shows up as e.g. /dev/ttyACM0. Can connect with minicom and execute e.g. "ATH0". ... actually, lots of stuff. See Nokia AT codes on Nokia Forum...

Downloaded gammu, configured and compiled. Created .gammurc with port=/dev/ttyACM0 and connection=fbus, but gammu does not recognize the 6820. Documentation suggests running portmon then running gammu in diagnostic mode. (SnoopyPro might show some useful data, too...).
- Portmon will log serial port data on Windows, including USB. SnoopyPro logs USB traffic. Needs some effort to understand the latter...
Still working on this...probably just a case of the right chat script for pppd to get the network modem going.

Yes!. See earlier - right chat script required for PPP. Still haven't figured out gammu, but maybe I can just talk AT codes for simple stuff. The camera's pretty useless, and the phone keyboard doesn't exactly cut it for touch typing, but I might want to transfer a file like a voice recording or sports event stopwatch log, or some text document I guess...

4 July 2005
Gammu 1.01.00 now working, sort of. I've got the CA-42 USB cable; gammurc likes:

port = /dev/input/ttyACM0
model = 6820
connection = dku5
By "sort of", I get timeouts if the error level is set to "nothing". "gammu errors --identify" seems to work. As does --setdatetime and --getfilesystem. Looks like I can download files - maybe I'll try the camera a bit more.

Hmm, now that works on one desktop but not the laptop. The AT stuff works reliably on the laptop, with

port = /dev/input/ttyACM0
connection = at230400
but not so many functions are available - no file download.

Video with .3gp suffix plays in RealPlayer 10 on Linux. Says it's H.323 video. As do .amr audio recordings; reaplay says it's AMR narrow-band audio (MPEG-4).

Dialup Modem Support

Rogers does not offer circuit switch connectivity, only packet switch connectivity under GPRS, so it can't be done. Other providers may offer this functionality; may require AT code such as "AT+CBST=51,0,1;+CHSN=6,0,0,0;"


What it costs on Rogers - various plans (2005):
Pay-Per-Use $0.05/kb
$3   for 250kb + $0.03/kb ($30/Mb)
$7   for   1Mb + $0.02/kb ($20/Mb)
$12  for   2Mb + $0.01/kb ($10/Mb)
$25  for   3Mb + $10/Mb
$40  for   7Mb + $6/Mb
$60  for  15Mb + $5/Mb
$100 for 100Mb + $3/Mb
No plan: $0.05 per kb
Mobile Internet plans:
                Monthly Included  Additional Data Usage
                $5.00   5MB     3c/KB  = $30/MB
                $10.00  10MB    3c/KB

Data plans:
Starter         $15     1.5 MB  $21/MB
Lite            $25     3 MB    $10/MB
Plus            $40     7 MB    $6/MB
Max             $60     25 MB   $7/MB
Data 100        $100    200 MB  $5/MB
Data 210        $210    500 MB  $5/MB
see also plans compared (graphic): 0-10MB/month 0-60MB/month, 0-1GB/month

Ask Rogers for current or region-specific pricing.

added March 2008

Cautionary Tales

Security Stuff

Be really careful downloading 3rd-party games .. there's no antivirus, and it's a flat security model like Windows 95. Nokia is supposed to be requiring all new apps on their site to be digitally signed, but they aren't yet.


The Nokia phone can browse the mobile Web both WML and XHTML. It can also browse the regular Web, but the fact that you may have to pay significant byte charges, and that the pages won't fit on the screen, are big problems. So you really want to stick to pages designed for the phone.

One problem was the same one facing early Web surfers - knowing where to start. The byte charge (on Rogers', at any rate) and relatively slow speed discouraged me from exploring the mobile Web by random surfing starting at the homepage that Rogers provide. But Google now has a Mobile Web Search, which greatly helps.

I finally realized that WML is not really all that difficult to write (see e.g., and that you don't have to provide a WML proxy - that is the responsibility of the cellphone company. So I made a couple of small "we're here" sites for TRIUMF - (WML) and (XHTML).

The Nokia browser is a bit hard to use compared to Mozilla with a proper keyboard - entering a URL manually is about three levels down in the menu - so I changed my homepage away from Rogers to a small one of my own which is essentially my mobile bookmarks.


Synchronization of the organizer data (calendar, notes etc.) seems to use SyncML binary WML via HTTP POST. wbxml2xml from Sourceforge converts the sync request to XML. sync4j may do the whole job.
See Syncing to a database (April 2007)

Resources has all sorts of tools, including a 5100 phone emulator for Windows (so you can develop tiny HTML sites without incurring phone charges) has a nice WML tutorial - useful to work with older non-HTML phones or, maybe, get in Google Wireless

Andrew Daviel