The MacBook and Blackberry Storm are a pair

Apple has yet to offer built-in 3G on the MacBook. But phones like the Blackberry Storm provide a suitable workaround.

Though Apple has yet to offer built-in 3G on MacBooks, pairing them up with phones like the Blackberry Storm provides a decent wireless workaround.

The MacBook Air can use the Blackberry Storm as a Bluetooth 3G modem
The MacBook Air can use the Blackberry Storm as a Bluetooth 3G modem Brooke Crothers

In December, I took the MacBook Air (i.e., the designers of the Air) to task for what I thought was a serious technological gaffe: not building 3G into the Air. At the very least, I thought 3G should have been included in the October refresh of the Air.

But I'm not going to rehash those gripes here (or repeat Apple's likely reasons for not including 3G). This time I bring good tidings.

After recently picking up a Blackberry Storm (Verizon), I quickly set it up as a Bluetooth "3G" modem by pairing it with my MacBook Air. The Blackberry uses an EV-DO 3G connection.

The Storm was relatively easy to set up and "tether" to the Air. And the results were better than I expected. Using Speedtest.net, I got download speeds of up to 1,088 Kbps (though it was typically closer to 500-600 Kbps) and uploads of up to 127 Kbps. Not torrential bandwidth but certainly good enough for the occasions when I don't have access to Wi-Fi (or when the Wi-Fi is iffy).

By comparison, on my Hewlett-Packard 2510p ultraportable with a built-in Verizon EV-DO modem, Speedtest.net said I was getting download speeds of up to 1,392 Kbps and uploads of 469 Kbps. (The Air's Wi-Fi connection gets about 2X download and 4X upload more than the Storm.)

As to setup: First, pair the two Bluetooth devices, then configure the phone on the MacBook side, telling it during the configuration process that you want to "Access the Internet with your phone's data connection." In Verizon's case, the account name is yourphonenumber@vzw3.com Then, in the next screen, you select "vendor: other" and "Verizon support, PC5220." (See screen shot of OS X 10.5.6 configuration Network setup.)

Setting up the Blackberry Storm as a Bluetooth modem was relatively easy
Setting up the Blackberry Storm as a Bluetooth modem was relatively easy Brooke Crothers

Do I still wish Apple would build 3G into the MBA? Of course. But I am pretty satisfied with this solution for now. Particularly when it allows me to extract more functionality out of the Storm. (Which as a standalone 3G phone I like a lot and which I will review in the near future.).

Verizon, however, does charge extra for tethering, particularly if the Storm is connected via USB. I have no interest in a USB connection (at least, not at this time) because that defeats the purpose of having a wireless Bluetooth-enabled phone. As people have pointed out, a Bluetooth modem is much more convenient. Particularly for frequent travelers. I can just attach the Blackberry to my belt and use the Air as though it had a built-in 3G modem.

(Note: A reader in Ireland provided the inspiration to use the Storm as a modem when he correctly pointed out that internal 3G access would start to get expensive if you had a modem in each computer, with each requiring a separate subscription. Or would become inconvenient if you kept having to move SIM cards between computers.)

(Also note that a quick search will yield examples of people who have hooked their Blackberry up to a MacBook.)

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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