HOW-TO: Use your CDMA cellphone as a USB modem


Travel plans about to take you beyond the land of broadband? Venturing far afield from the great kingdom of WiFi? You may have been born with 802.11b in your mouth, but you're going to want to get prepared for that next trip to the sticks. This How-To will show you how to get a decent Internet connection for no cost other than the phone minutes you use while connected. It should also come in handy for you folks not located on the left or right coasts, and for those of us non-urbanites when the coffee shops are closed (stay tuned next week for Phillip Torrone's USB coffee maker How-To...). And remember, the Motel 6 does not offer WiFi. Get prepared, scout!

Gather ye materials while ye may:

  1. Laptop running Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.2 or higher

  2. CDMA phone (If you have a GSM phone, see GSM USB modem for OS X on the Mac. Windows users, first configure your phone as a modem, then use a separate dial-up ISP or paid GPRS connection.)

  3. Phone plan: You need to have Sprint PCS Vision enabled to access their 3G network, which gives you access speeds typically somewhere between a 56K modem and DSL/cable. If your carrier is Verizon, you don't need to pay any extra fee for data transmission, and you have two connection options: the Quick Connect Network, zipping along at 14.4K but dead easy to set up, or the Express Network, which gets you into the same speed range as Sprint PCS but can be funkier to set up.

  4. USB data cable for your phone model (Usually pretty cheap. More on this later.)

  5. Possibly, drivers for your phone (Under OS X, you probably have a built-in driver already. Windows users, we'll help you track yours down in a bit.)

First, let's find your data cable. You can order a USB "data kit" for your phone from Verizon, Sprint, or from your phone manufacturer, but it comes with some extra junk you probably don't need. If you want to save a few quid you can just get an OEM data cable (sometimes called a 'replacement data cable' because they really want to sucker you into buying that "data kit."). One end is standard USB, and the other end will fit the data port on your phone.

USB phone data cable

Check or Cellular Factory for OEM cables for a wide range of phones, or just do a Google search for "your phone+usb modem." FutureDial also sells OEM cables; their web site claims they are for use with FutureDial software only, but this is pure marketing shinola.

For most phones, you can score a cable for between $15-$30. You also might have luck at Radio Shack - note that if you do find your cable there, and you are on OS X, they may tell you the cable 'won't work with Macs.' Disregard them. Or, they may try and tell you that you need special, lucrative drivers to use the cable with OS X. Again, this is total bunk that you can safely disregard. Feel free to chuckle at them on your way out the door with your cable.

If you're running Windows XP, you most likely will need a driver for your phone. Your OEM cable may have come with a driver disk, in which case we recommend that you pause for a moment to do the dance of joy, then skip the rest of this paragraph. If it didn't, fear not - a little poking around should uncover a driver specifically for your phone or a generic driver that will do the trick. Start with a Google search for "your phone+USB modem driver" to try and find the driver that is specifically for your phone model. This is often faster than going direct to the phone manufacturer's web site, which is what you should try second. If both of these fail, there are some generic drivers that may work if you have a Sanyo or Samsung phone: try the USB-Serial.exe driver package from Supplynet. If you still haven't found your driver, please see the "Good places to track down obscure drivers" section at the end of this how-to.

Setting up your CDMA phone modem, Windows XP

Find your driver as per above, download it and unpack it. Or, insert the CD that came with your cable. Next, plug the data cable into your phone, and plug the USB end into your PC. The ever-lovable Hardware Wizard should appear:

Windows Hardware Wizard

You can let Window Update search for a compatible driver if you had trouble locating yours, but otherwise select "No, not this time" and we'll go ahead and select the driver since we already know where it is. Click Next.

The Wizard will now want to know if you will let it try and install the device drivers automagically:


It is my experience that the Wizard is not terribly wizardly in this regard, so we're going to live dangerously and choose the 'Advanced' route, "Install from a list or specific location." Click Next. The Wizard will try once again to take over, so in the next dialogue select "Don't search, I will choose the driver to install" and click Next.

Now we choose what type of device we're installing: Modems.

hardware wizard 5

The next dialog box will tell you that Windows didn't find any drivers, but we're not surprised because we wisely never let it search for any. Just click 'Have disk.' You'll get the familiar 'browse to find your file' dialogue. Click Browse, find the driver for your phone, then click 'OK.' You should now be presented with an 'Install New Modem' dialogue:

hardware wizard 8

Your phone modem should show up in the 'Models' pane. You may get a warning message that "This driver is not digitally signed!" and, when you click next, you get another warning that says installing the software can impair or destabilize the operating system, make you prematurely bald, cause irreversible blindness, under no circumstances should you continue, blah blah blah. Don't panic.

hardware wizard 9

Microsoft is just trying to cover its own arse, and the worst than can happen is likely the driver won't work. Live life on the edge and click 'Continue Anyway.' You'll get a 'Please wait' dialogue while Windows installs the driver. The Wizard will announce when it is done installing the new hardware; just click 'Finish.'

Now we're ready to establish our connection. Go to Control Panel > Network and Internet Connections. Click "Set up or change your internet connection." Click the "Connections" tab.

usb modem 10

Click the Setup button, which will bring up another Wizard. Click Next.

Select "Connect to the Internet." Click Next.

Select "Set up my connection manually." Click Next.

Select "Connect using a dial-up modem." Click Next.

It's likely you already have an internal modem in your laptop, so you'll see a dialogue asking you to choose which modem to use:

usb modem 11

Select your phone modem and click Next. The next dialogue will ask you to name the connection. Do so; click Next.

For phone number, enter #777 and click Next.

Next, we enter our account details:

usb modem 12

If you're on Sprint PCS Vision, your username/password combination is web/web. If you're on Verizon, you can connect to the 14.4K QNC network with qnc/qnc. To connect to the Express network, your username will be your 10-digit phone number followed by the string, e.g., with the password vzw. If you can't get the Express Network running and you just want something that works without hassle, do the QNC network. Remember 300 baud? 14.4K ain't so bad.

You'll probably want to uncheck both "Use this account name and password when anyone connects to the Internet from this computer" and "Make this the default Internet connection." Click Next, check "Add a shortcut to this connection..." to create a shortcut on the Desktop, then click Finish to exit the Wizard.

Double-click the shortcut to the connection on the Desktop (you can also go to Start > Connect To > Your connection name). The following connection window will appear:

usb modem 13

Click Dial to dial the phone modem. Without too much fanfare, you should shortly be connected. The Network icon in your system tray should reflect this. If not, you can try resetting the chip in your phone. Keep all cables connected and turn off your phone. Wait at least five seconds, then turn the phone back on. Try dialing again. Good luck!

Setting up your CDMA phone modem, Mac OS X

Mac users, rejoice, for ye don't have too much in the way of setup, nor do ye have to visit the Wizard. Sprint users will not need any additional drivers. Verizon users can use the generic Verizon Wireless Standard Driver, available here. If that mirror ever goes down, the Yahoo Maccellphone users group has a copy of it in their Files section. Plunk this driver down in your /Library/Modem Scripts folder. Then, let's dig in!

First, plug the data cable end into your phone, then the USB end into your Mac. Your computer will 'discover' your phone and you will see a new hardware dialogue:

usb modem mac 1

Click OK. Then, open the System Preferences Network panel. Let's create a new location so you can easily switch back and forth between the modem and your other configurations. In the Location pop-up menu, select "New Location..." and give the location some sort of meaningful name.

usb modem mac 2

Next, click the Show drop-down menu and select "Network Port Configurations."

usb modem mac 3

Your phone should be in the list of port configurations:

usb modem mac 4

If it isn't, try resetting the chip in your phone. Quit System Preferences, keep the cables connected, and power down your phone for at least five seconds. Power up the phone and relaunch Network Preferences and resume.

Click the Show drop-down again and select your phone modem port. Click the Modem tab:

usb modem mac 5

You will now need to select the proper modem from the Modem drop-down menu. If you are a Sprint user, your choice is Sprint PCS Vision. If you are a Verizon user, your choice is Verizon_Wireless_STD_Driver. Be sure to check "Show modem status in menu bar" so you can have a handy way to connect from anywhere (you can also always use the Internet Connect program in your Applications folder).

usb modem mac 6

Supposedly you should uncheck "wait for dial tone before dialing," but it still works for me if I leave it checked. If it's not working for you, try unchecking it.

Click the PPP tab:

usb modem mac 7

For Sprint, you ought to be able to get a connection by merely filling in the Telephone Number as #777, and nothing else: no account name, no password, zip, zilch, nada. Verizon users: to connect to the Express network, your username will be your 10-digit phone number followed by the string, e.g., with the password vzw. If you have trouble connecting this way, try connecting to the Quick Connect Network by entering in the Account name and Password both as qnc. Click Apply Now.

It's time to roll. Click on the phone icon in your menu bar and make sure that your phone modem is checked instead of the Internal Modem. Select Connect.

usb modem mac 8

You'll see a "Dialing..." message ticker across the menu bar, followed by a "Connecting..." ticker, and then voila! For those about to browse, we salute you. To disconnect, simply choose Disconnect from the same menu.

Checking email

If you use webmail, no further instruction needed on the email front. If you use pop mail, just launch your client of choice and you shouldn't have any trouble receiving mail, and chances are good that outgoing mail will work swimmingly, as well. If anything, you may run into a snag trying to send outgoing mail, in which case you might want to try changing the outgoing SMTP server to If you're still having trouble sending out, it could quite possibly involve some voodoo to make it work. If you've gotten this far and all you needed to do was send a single freakin' email, just remember that there are far more important things in life to be shedding tears over, such as why the Japanese get all the cool phones. Stay strong, pardner. Remember that there was life long before Al Gore invented the internet.

Good places to track down obscure drivers, or to ask for help if you get stuck with your particular phone/driver/operating system conglomeration:

There you have it, folks. The next time you find yourself saying "Where the Fi is my WiFi?!" you can think of Engadget, and kick yourself for not having printed out this How-to.