App Review: TetherBerry



TetherBerry_Logo_250w Did you know that if you own a BlackBerry with a data plan, your laptop has Internet accessanywhere your BB has a signal? With TetherBerry, it does!

It’s like carrying your own personal Wi-Fi hotspot everywhere you go. In this article we answer the questions:

  • Exactly what is tethering?
  • My wireless carrier charges a fee for tethering? Will I have to pay?
  • What do I need to make TetherBerry work?
  • What happens if I receive a phone call, email, or text message while my phone is tethered?
  • Can I use my phone while it’s tethered? For what?
  • And how well does it work?

What is Tethering?

Storm_tethered_250w Tethering is connecting your computer (laptop, desktop, or netbook) to your mobile phone and using it to connect your computer to the Internet. For this to work, your wireless plan must include a data plan. But with TetherBerry, you do NOT need a special tethering plan.

The connection is done with the same kind of USB cable you use with your Desktop Manager software for backing up, synchronizing, and managing apps and media for your BlackBerry.

Tethering provides your computer with the telecommunication capability for connecting with the Internet, wirelessly.

Tethering Fees

But what about fees? For example, my carrier is Verizon Wireless. My plan includes the Email and Web for BlackBerry feature that costs me $29.99/month. It allows me 5GB of data traffic per month. I could upgrade to the BlackBerry Unlimited data plan for $44.99/month, but I have never come close to the 5GB limit, so it’s not worth it for me. Verizon’s tethering plan is called Mobile Broadband Connect, and it would cost me an additional $30/month, still with a 5GB monthly allowance.

So, do I need to pay Verizon’s tethering fee if I use TetherBerry? No! TetherBerry uses my existing data plan to provide Internet access. My use of TetherBerry does count against my 5GB monthly traffic allowance, but without incurring an extra fee.

So, TetherBerry saves me $360/year compared to paying Verizon’s tethering fee (Mobile Broadband Connect).

Installing TetherBerry, Desktop Software

Installing TetherBerry is like installing most any other program you download from the Internet. But if you don’t do much of that, here’s what it looks like. First you must purchase ($49.95 when last checked) and download TetherBerry from the TetherBerry.com web site. Once downloaded, run the program to do the install:

Install_TetherBerry_01

Click Next.

Install_TetherBerry_02

Accept the license agreement (have you EVER read one of these?).

Install_TetherBerry_03

Accept the default installation folder. Click Next.

Install_TetherBerry_04

Click Next yet again.

Install_TetherBerry_05

Choose whatever icons you want, and click Next.

Install_TetherBerry_07

And the installation finally begins.

Install_TetherBerry_08

OK, now this was a bit confusing (screenshot above). Despite my male instincts, I actually read the download and installation directions provided by TetherBerry, and this message seemed bogus. So I decided to just ignore it and push ahead. It turned out to be the correct decision. Not sure what was up with this.

Install_TetherBerry_09

If you actually read the message in this dialog box, it seemed that something went wrong, and my installation failed. Right? Wrong! Everything is fine. Just have faith!

Install_TetherBerry_10

TetherBerry_Windows_iconAnd voilà, now everything looks fine again. And it is!

On my Windows Vista computer, the desktop icon looks like this (the shield probably doesn’t appear on a Windows XP computer–it indicates that the program runs as Administrator on Vista):

Installing TetherBerry, Phone App

To make TetherBerry work, you need software installed not only on your computer, but also on your phone. A small application program (app) must be downloaded to your phone using instructions provided by TetherBerry. Directions on how to download are provided during the online purchase process.

Screenshots below are for the BlackBerry Storm. Screens for Pearl, Curve, Bold, etc. will look similar.

Download_TetherBerry_01

Click to Set application permissions, then click Download.

Download_TetherBerry_02

Click View. (FYI–your BlackBerry is being cautious to let you know the app you’re installing is requesting permission to have some relatively powerful access to the workings of your phone.)

Download_TetherBerry_03

Click the Escape key to move past this screen.

Download_TetherBerry_04

Wait while TetherBerry downloads (it’s very quick)…

Download_TetherBerry_05

And, if all went well, you get the screen above. Click OK.

Download_TetherBerry_06

On my BlackBerry Storm, the app installed in the Downloads folder. On the Pearl, Curve, Bold, etc., the app icon probably shows up on your Home Screen.

Configuring for TetherBerry

It turns out that since my carrier is Verizon Wireless, I did not have to do any special configuration. But, according to the TetherBerry instructions I received, other carriers may require some APN (Access Point Name) Settings. Those settings may already be set in your phone–I don’t know. On a Storm, those settings are found at Options > Advanced Options > TCP/IP:

APN_settings

For my Verizon Wireless phone, it’s OK for these settings to be blank. For your phone, you may need specific APN settings. Where to find them? Try:

Try TetherBerry first before you mess with these settings. Maybe your phone is OK as-is.

Using TetherBerry

At this point, you should have TetherBerry software installed on your computer and on your BlackBerry.

Connect your BlackBerry to your computer using the appropriate USB cable. Again, it’s the same cable you would use with Desktop Manager.

Run the TetherBerry program on your computer. You get a very small dialog box–that’s all. See below that it prompts you to run the TetherBerry app on your phone.

Run_00

Click the TetherBerry app icon on your BlackBerry. On my Storm, I get the screen below:

Download_TetherBerry_07

Your computer dialog box now looks like this, showing the connection between computer and phone is good:

Run_01

And you’re good to go.

My Experience with TetherBerry

Performance

If you’re expecting fireworks, well, there aren’t any. You just open your web browser and start surfing the ‘net. It just works!

I live in a rural area with weak-to-moderate cellular coverage. I did not attempt to do any speed tests, as I would not be testing TetherBerry as much as my local cell tower and Verizon’s network in my area–as well as my phone itself. What we want to know is whether TetherBerry provides reliable Internet access to our computer.

What I can say is that TetherBerry has worked great for me. The download speeds seemed quite fast, very satisfying. I do own a wireless broadband modem, the Verizon (actually Novatel Ovation) USB727, and the combination of TetherBerry and my BlackBerry Storm seemed to be faster. At worst, it was as good as the USB727.

I verified that email (SMTP), file transfer (FTP), and ping (ICMP) protocols worked through TetherBerry. These are Internet services that many of us use in addition to web browsing (HTTP). [I didn't think to try instant messaging (IRC), but I have no reason to believe it wouldn't work. I'll check that later.]

While testing and experimenting, I did have an occasion where I had to reboot my computer, reset my BlackBerry, and start over to get TetherBerry to connect between my computer and phone. Because I wasn’t being very careful about what I was doing, I’m not sure whose fault that was. I hope everyone who uses computers and smartphones have learned, “when in doubt, reboot!”

Surprises (all good!)

I really didn’t know what to expect if my tethering session got interrupted by a phone call, email, or text message. I didn’t even know if a call or message would interrupt my tethering session. So, I tested it:

  • An incoming call did cause the phone to ring. Internet access seemed to be paused or delayed, but not disrupted. If I clicked Ignore to make the call go to voicemail, Internet access resumed perfectly.
  • The incoming call did show Caller ID, and I did have a chance to abort my Internet access and answer the call.
  • An email message was received and generated a notification tone. Internet access was not disrupted.
  • A text message was received and generated a notification tone. Internet access was not disrupted.

Now for the real surprise: I could use the Application Switcher to let TetherBerry run in the background while I accessed other features of my BlackBerry. While TetherBerry was running, accessing a web page or downloading a file, I could simultaneously use my BlackBerry just like I normally would (excluding making calls or sending messages)!

  • I could access received email or text messages while TetherBerry ran uninterrupted.
  • I could search my Address Book while TetherBerry ran uninterrupted.
  • I could change Options while TetherBerry ran uninterrupted.
  • I could play music while TetherBerry ran uninterrupted.
  • I could even play BrickBreaker while TetherBerry ran uninterrupted.

Not surprisingly, you can’t do anything that requires use of the BlackBerry USB port while TetherBerry is running. For example, you can’t run and use Desktop Manager. Nor can you access your Media Card through Mass Storage Mode. The USB port has to remain dedicated to use by TetherBerry. Fair enough!

Warnings

The most important caution you should take is to understand your wireless data plan. Around the world, there are a large number of very different data plans. Neither I nor the makers of TetherBerry (Quark Engineering and Development Inc.) know the details of all these plans (and even if we did, they change). There are at least two important points to look for:

  • Is there any legal restriction that would prevent you from using TetherBerry? [If I ever learn of such a case, I'll publish that info here.]
  • What is your monthly allowance for data traffic? [5GB appears to be a common limit.]

Next, until you have a good feel for your data usage, monitor your usage frequently. [Verizon Wireless lets me log in to an online account where I can check my usage of airtime minutes and data. I hope your carrier offers the same service. My usage is typically less than 250MB/month, well under the 5GB=5000MB limit. But that's also before I've started using TetherBerry! With my USB727, must usage is typically less than 1GB/month, still way under the 5GB limit. But, for sure, usage varies widely between people.]

Conclusion

TetherBerry is a very cool product.

  • It works great.
  • It gives me new freedom to use my laptop in places I never could before.
  • It saves me money–I don’t have to pay an exorbitant monthly tethering fee.

PostScript 2009-05-02: There has been a report, whether true or not, that one Verizon customer received a huge bill when Verizon discovered the use of TetherBerry. If true, the story was that the customer had no data plan. The sudden appearance of significant data traffic (from the use of TetherBerry) would certainly catch Verizon’s attention. I have emailed the alleged victim and he has never responded. TetherBerry has tried to contact him and he has never responded to them either. So, we can’t verify the story. Anyhow, if you have a data plan that allows you to surf the web, use a map program, stream media, etc., Verizon should be OK as long as you don’t exceed your monthly quota. But that’s just my opinion. I pay for three (!) data plans that never come even close to their quotas, so Verizon shouldn’t have complaints from my meager usage. BTW–the advertising on this site helps defray the cost of my plans: PLEASE support my sponsors, which supports this site!

~~~

Related links:

  • Boy Genius review of TetherBerry (Similarly positive review, with a slightly different emphasis. I respectfully disagree with publishing data from SpeedTest.net speed tests. I’ve done hours of testing using SpeedTest.net–including some testing with TetherBerry, myself–and know that the variation between tests is so wide that it’s not very meaningful for rating a product like TetherBerry. That’s why I reported a qualitative rather than quantitative measure of performance.)
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About the author

This entry was contributed by Kelly Carter
84 entries have been written by this author.

15 comments on this post

arnold says:
Mar 7, 2009 - 11:03:11

Thanks for the review. I have service with Verizon with the same data plan as you. Does Verizon have legal restrictions in using tetherberry?

Regards,
Arnold

Mar 7, 2009 - 07:03:20

arnold,
I don’t know of any restriction, and I plan on using TetherBerry (it officially launches on Monday, March 9).
Kelly

shakil says:
Mar 15, 2009 - 06:03:49

hii
iam using bb storm how to avctivate gprs init???

Mar 15, 2009 - 09:03:49

shakil,
By “activate gprs init,” are you trying to get your internal GPS to work? Please tell me a little more about what seems to be wrong. Which GPS-based application are you trying that seems to fail? BlackBerry Maps? Google Maps? Is the app reporting that it is “waiting for satellites” but never finds them?

Be aware that in BlackBerry Maps, you have to press the Menu key and select “Start GPS Navigation.”

In Google maps, you have to press the little blue ball icon in the bottom right corner of the screen to activate GPS, ” or the app will use cell tower triangulation instead of GPS to fix your location.

Give me some more info and I’ll see if I can help more.
Kelly

Mar 19, 2009 - 08:03:07

TetherBerry – $59.99

Mar 19, 2009 - 10:03:39

Thanks, Angela. I’ll update my article now that the price has been set. Kelly

Peg Sandersfeld says:
Mar 19, 2009 - 02:03:57

I have verizon wireless BB storm. I want to only use facebook, internet and I use the navagator. I pay a data plan and mobile boradband. I do not know that much. Do I really need the mobile broadband with the data plan? i am not going to hook up my phone to my computer ever and I dont use it in remote places.

Mar 19, 2009 - 03:03:04

Peg,
Verizon’s Email and Web plan is all you need for web browsing (including Facebook) and email. VZNavigator requires an extra $10/month plan. Why? The internal GPS device is crippled (by Verizon) unless you pay the fee for VZNavigator, so you can’t use other free GPS programs that are similar to VZNavigator (well, there is a way that takes extraordinary measures). Hope that answers your question.
Kelly

lee says:
Apr 29, 2009 - 02:04:49

hey kelly

just a heads up, over on crackberry.com, there is a guy who has a blackberry on verizon who used tetherberry. vzw got wind of him tethering without a tether plan and hit him with a $3800 tether bill.

http://forums.crackberry.com/f71/omg-help-unexpected-data-charges-tetherberry-use-190239/

wouldn’t want to see the same happen to someone else…

Jul 23, 2009 - 04:07:40

Thanks Kelly! WOW! Your article helped me VERY MUCH! I was confused on where to find Tetherberry on my Blackberry! Your article was very informative and easy to follow! You are a good Samaritan to offer this information for people like me that do not have the genius qualities that you have! Thanks again! Larry…

Jul 23, 2009 - 04:07:48

LARRY,
Your kind words are a great reward, so thanks back to you. Let me know if I can help further.
Kelly

Junior says:
Aug 13, 2009 - 01:08:35

My data plan said unlimited with verizon and i have a storm 9530, does that means i can do the tetherberry thing with out getting charged like some others have been charged

Aug 13, 2009 - 03:08:30

Junior,
If you have a Verizon data plan, be it 5GB or unlimited, TetherBerry will work. I can’t promise anything about what Verizon will do. As I understand it, you will not get charged. The stories, be they true or rumors, about people getting charged I think resulted from them having no data plan. A carrier will CLEARLY get upset if you’re using your phone for tons of data but not paying for a plan. Using TetherBerry with no plan is inviting disaster.

If you can point me to substantiated stories about people getting charged who DO have a data plan (no matter the carrier), I’d like to investigate. The TetherBerry folks (last I discussed it with them) suggested such stories are rumors and scare tactics by the carriers. I have no firsthand knowledge one way or the other.
Kelly

Dyan says:
Aug 22, 2009 - 05:08:19

HI- I am a novice, and I am trying to figure out how to use my laptop when I travel, for less than $60/month via AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc. It sounds as if a data plan will help avoid the nightmare $3,800 charge that one person mentioned. However if I get a 5 GB wireless data plan, which is an enormous amout of data, why would I need to Tether?…just to aviod buying a USB wireless stick? It seems that all the carriers will give you a stick for free if you sign a 2 year data plan, so I must be confused.

Or are the postings saying that if I sign up for unlimited data plan for my mobile phone, which is only $15/month, that they will ignore the tethering?

Thanks in advance

Aug 23, 2009 - 08:08:35

Dyan,
Actually, I’m confused by your question…not sure exactly what you’re asking. You’re right that you may be able to get a “free” USB modem with a 2-year plan, but you will pay a hefty monthly fee. But with a USB modem, you’re still free to use your phone. If you want to tether your phone, you have to pay a monthly fee. I’ve learned but not verified that Verizon’s monthly fee for tethering has dropped dramatically, but still there is a monthly fee for tethering ABOVE AND BEYOND what you pay for your BlackBerry plan. So TetherBerry offers a one-time payment for tethering versus a carrier’s never-ending monthly charges for the same service. In any case, you need a BlackBerry data plan. An unlimited BlackBerry plan at Verizon is about $45, not $15. As for “ignoring the tethering,” I don’t think the carrier can distinguish you surfing the web using your phone’s browser or surfing the web using your laptop/phone combination (tethered). Hope that answers your question.
Kelly

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