Jamie's Blog

Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids

Always-on GPRS The promise of GPRS was that we wo…

Always-on GPRS
The promise of GPRS was that we would have an “always-on” connection to the internet. Dial-up costs and delays associated with WAP and CSD connections would be gone. Email could arrive pretty much like text messages to our Bluetooth-enabled PDA (although you’d have to poll the mail server). The Vodafone page still quotes: “You’re always connected, making tedious dial-ups a thing of the past”

However, this is not the reality and I have to tell you that it was never the reality in the mind of telecoms operators. I was involved in the field trials for GPRS with one operator who basically laughed at the notion of an “always-on” connection. Always-on costs the operators valuable resources: ip address allocations, network bandwidth etc etc. Of course, it isn’t that resource intensive as it was designed to be always-on. But of course, by making everyone repeatedly reconnect they get to charge a basic connection fee (about 15c I believe) for each connection. I needed to send an important email on Saturday and being the geek I am I thought I’d utilise my Palm m125 PDA, Nokia 6310 GPRS phone and my newly purchased VersaMail application. Connecting to the IMAP server was simple and worked well. I downloaded new message headers and was in the process of deciding which message bodies I wanted to read when the GPRS connection dropped. I have pretty good, reliable signal in my apartment so that wasn’t the problem. In fact, I’ve just performed a little test: Get VersaMail to check for new message headers (and hence establish a GPRS connection), waiting until it has finished and record the time it takes the GPRS connection to drop. 45secs. That’s right, in addition to the lack of afforable wired broadband in Ireland we also only get 45secs of always-on mobile access.

The obvious solution might be to implement some form of “keep-alive” by sending a few packet every 30secs to stop the operator dropping the connection but at 2c/KB this isn’t practical for long periods. And I’m not sure if GPRS will convey ICMP packets used for things like “ping” (thought it didn’t but that might be that you were not allowed to ping any devices connected to the GPRS network due to a firewall problem - I can’t remember).

Indeed, because my IMAP server didn’t appear to enjoy sending messages at the w/e I had to use my laptop and send the message via the Outlook web access over the GPRS connection. This rather simple act has cost me over 15euro - just to send an important 4 line email. The chances of us getting a useful 3G service are close to zero and there doesn’t appear to be much the newly renamed Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) wants to do about it.

BTW, VersaMail is a nice Palm mail application (it’s an updated, rebranded version of MultiMail). It’s cheap, it works well and it supports IMAP. Sadly it can only see folders in the root directory (I’m used to having everything as a sub-folder of Inbox) and the free Eudora Internet Suite is just as good if you only need POP3 access (and it includes an SSL-enabled web browser)

Oh, and another complaint. The vodafone software “Connect Me” for managing GPRS connections on PalmOS requires PalmOS version 4.0 or later but the idiot programmers forgot the “or later” part and it rejects my m125 with PalmOS v4.0.1. Duh!