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Old 10-02-2007, 02:00 PM   #1
Mark Rejhon
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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Carrier: Rogers
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Default HOWTO: Use BlackBerry on Generic NON-BlackBerry Data Plan

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These questions get asked so often, over and over, about how to use a BlackBerry without a BlackBerry plan, and simply using a generic data plan. I earlier made a FAQ on another forum on how to use a BlackBerry on the cheap data plans, and I am donating a copy of my FAQ:
Note: The information was originally designed for Rogers Canada, due to the high data pricing in Canada. However, this works on any GSM carrier in the world (even carriers that don't support BlackBerry), though some sections such as APN, needs to be edited.
  • Q: What is the difference between the BlackBerry data plan versus generic data plan?
    A: The BlackBerry data plan gives you access to BlackBerry-branded software such as BlackBerry email, and BlackBerry browser, etc, as well as other enhancements appropriate to business. However, either kinds of plans work fine with third-party applications.
  • Q: What kind of data usage can I use on BlackBerry with just a generic data plan?
    A: You can use third-party software such as Opera Mini, IM+, GMAIL Mobile, Google Maps Mobile, BBWeather, etc. A lot of these applications are free. You just can't use BlackBerry-RIM-branded applications, but almost everything else you download off the Net into your BlackBerry works. Everything else you would normally use, such as phone, voicemail, PIM, SMS, etc, work perfectly on a BlackBerry.
  • Q: Why use a non-BlackBerry data plan on a BlackBerry?
    A: As one example using Rogers Canada, see the price comparision: Rogers Mobile Internet versus Rogers BlackBerry Plans
    ...$5 for 5 MB of non-BlackBerry data
    ...$10 for 10 MB non-BlackBerry data
    ...$45 for 7 MB of BlackBerry data.
    As you can see, you can get a generic data plan for BlackBerry for less than one quarter the price at this Canadian carrier! Another reason is to be able to use a BlackBerry with a carrier that doesn't support BlackBerry.
  • Q: Why is there such a large price difference on Rogers?
    A: Rogers originally priced BlackBerry for businesses. New BlackBerry models with cameras, memory card, MP3, and GPS, have made BlackBerry a lot more attractive to consumers. Unfortunately, Rogers has not yet released consumer-priced BlackBerry plans. Fortunately, Rogers released consumer-priced NON-BlackBerry plans and they DO work on a BlackBerry. Also, some carriers in other countries have a similiar situation, or their non-BlackBerry plans have other superior features.
  • Q: How do I install third party software?
    A: Most third party software can be installed using BlackBerry Desktop over a USB cable. BlackBerry Desktop is software included with a BlackBerry or available from BlackBerry's website. Links to example common software that have desktop installers:
    Opera Mini - Opera Mini (Version 4 Beta is much better)
    IM+ Chat - Chat software AIM/MSN/iChat/Yahoo/ICQ/GoogleTalk
    These are the easiest applications to install on a BlackBerry without a BlackBerry plan.
  • Q: Some software can only be installed wirelessly. How do I install these?
    A: Unfortunately, wireless install doesn't work without a BlackBerry plan, so you have to manually install the software instead. Some third party software such as GMAIL Mobile, Google Maps Mobile, are designed to be installed wirelessly through BlackBerry Browser, which doesn't work without a BlackBerry plan. Opera Mini doesn't install applications. So there are a few options to install these software:
    1. Borrow another BlackBerry's SIM card for a few minutes, just to download the applications; or
    2. Use a command line utility called javaloader/JL_Cmdr; or
    3. Convert .jad/.jar (regular cellphone download) to .cod/.alx (blackberry desktop install) using a conversion utility.
  • Q: How do I install GMAIL?
    A: GMAIL is becoming the most frequently requested application, because it makes it convenient to do email on a BlackBerry without a BlackBerry plan. Unfortunately, GMAIL was designed to be installed wirelessly which doesn't work without BlackBerry Browser (which doesn't show up without a BlackBerry plan). So, as an alternative method of manually installing GMAIL on BlackBerry, see instructions on how to install GMAIL without a BlackBerry plan, which essentially are these steps:
    - Download the two original .cod files from google's site (see onelikeseapass' post)
    - Copy and paste the text into an .alx file
    - Make sure both .cod files and the .alx file are in the same folder.
    - Install in BlackBerry Desktop by pointing it to the .alx file. (Follow standard BlackBerry Desktop instructions on how to add software to a BlackBerry).
    Note: An .alx is just a text file but with an .alx extension instead of .txt. Just run Windows Notepad from the Start Menu, and Save As using a filename with ".alx" at the end (Save as Type = "All Files").
  • Q: I thought BlackBerry can only be used with BlackBerry plans?
    A: While formerly true, this is now a myth. Since BlackBerry OS version 4.0, BlackBerries work great with third-party data applications.
  • Q: I thought all data went through BlackBerry servers? Is this wrong?
    A: This isn't true for most third party applications. Third party applications typically bypass the BlackBerry servers, and that is why they work on a BlackBerry.
  • Q: I don't need email, I thought BlackBerry was only good for email?
    A: The modern BlackBerry does not need to be used for email. You can do texting, cameraphone, GPS, third party data applications, etc. All of those work without a BlackBerry plan.
  • Q: How do I configure my BlackBerry?
    A: You will have to change its APN, just like you do for any cellphone. For Rogers, the APN is as follows:
    Options -> Advanced -> TCP -> APN
    Change to "" and Save.
    If you are using a different carrier than Rogers, you will have to fill in different APN information. There are a lot of APN lists on the Internet you can check, including this carrier APN listing, to find the APN appropriate to your carrier.
  • Q: I already got the $5 data plan! Can I use my SIM card from my regular phone?
    A: Yes. Just move the SIM card to your BlackBerry.
  • Q: Can I use my SIM card from my TREO or other data device?
    A: Yes, any compatible SIM card with any data plan can be used on a BlackBerry. It will just count as the same kind of data. Yes, even prepaid SIM cards works, although prepaid isn't usually cost-effective. Just make sure it's a SIM card from the same carrier, unless your BlackBerry is already unlocked.
  • Q: Can I use any BlackBerry?
    A: Yes, any recent BlackBerry from your carrier can be used. You can use 71XX series, 8XXX series, Pearl, Curve, right away. Alternatively, if your carrier does not sell BlackBerries, you can obtain an unlocked BlackBerry elsewhere.
  • Q: Do I need to modify my BlackBerry?
    A: Other than configuring the APN setting, there is no other modifications needed, unless it's a very old model. An old model such as 72XX may work if you upgrade its software to the latest BlackBerry OS firmware of at least Version 4.0 which has the configurable APN.
  • Q: Can I use my unlocked GSM BlackBerry?
    A: Yes, unlocked GSM BlackBerry works, from any foreign GSM carrier.
  • Q: Can I do this on CDMA?
    A: It's a little more tricky if your device does not have a SIM card slot. This FAQ mainly covers GSM BlackBerry models.
  • Q: Can I get email without a BlackBerry plan?
    A: You won't get BlackBerry-branded push email and the BlackBerry-branded web browser won't work, so you will need to install third party software. One email application that works on the BlackBerry without a BlackBerry plan, is GMAIL Mobile. Unfortunately it won't alert you (no vibration alert upon receiving email), but it's fine for casual email checking, ala iPhone/etc.
  • Q: How is texting on a BlackBerry like?
    A: The QWERTY keyboards can make it very convenient. You can also use a texting plan, as BlackBerry allows you to easily write huge text messages (messages up to around 1000 characters) which automatically gets split up to 6 text messages. These are actually automatically combined into one message by some other phones that automatically recombine segmented text messages (such as other BlackBerries).
  • Q: I heard you get charged extra if you bypass the BlackBerry servers.
    A: At this time of writing, many carriers, such as Rogers now consider it all the same data on the phone bill. Both Blackberry data and non-BlackBerry data count equally. (just that you get the extras such as BlackBerry email with a BlackBerry plan). On Rogers, people who use Rogers Navigate plans on a BlackBerry just get billed for data just like they would use any cellphone. People who use BlackBerry plans on a BlackBerry and use non-BlackBerry applications.
  • Q: BlackBerry plans include compression. Generic data plans don't?
    A: BlackBerry plans definitely includes very good compression (email/web), however, there are ways to get compression on generic data plans. Some third party applications such as Opera Mini now includes compression that work on ANY data plan, not just BlackBerry plans. (Opera Mini Compression Article #1, Article #2). In fact, Opera Mini's compression is as good as BlackBerry Browser in actual usage trials for HTML browsing. Images can be turned off (downloaded manually), or downloaded in low-quality mode (highly compressed), just like BlackBerry Browser. If you mainly do WAP browsing in BlackBerry Browser, then make sure you turn images off with Opera Mini, to make web page views only 10 to 20 kilobytes each. This gives you a few hundred webpage views per month on a typical 10MB generic data plan.
  • Q: How much data does GMAIL Mobile uses?
    A: While not as efficient as BlackBerry Email, it's much more efficient than iPhone email and Pocket Outlook (Windows Mobile). GMAIL uses the following compression techniques: Making email download manual (downloads only the most recent few headers only, and new emails), makes attachment download optional, downloading only kilobytes-sized image thumbnails or text snippets when you actually try to download a megabytes-sized thumbnails or text snippets. GMAIL is pretty safe on a 10MB generic data plan, although you probably want to quit the GMAIL software whenever you're done with it as leaving it idling will continually use small amounts of data (as it downloads new email headers). Currently, GMAIL mobile does not seem to use zip-style recompression on downloads of the text portions of emails (which is small to begin with, anyway), but it does the more important compression tactics such as making download optional, and downsizing when viewing attachments -- that's the scary part that good 'ol GMAIL Mobile prevents you from killing your data plan with.
  • Q: Does Opera Mini have a data counter?
    A: Yes! This is why it's better than BlackBerry Browser too. It has the similiar excellent compression abilities, yet BlackBerry Browser does not have a data counter. To be safe, carefully monitor the Opera Mini data counter in Opera Mini -> HELP -> About .... Make sure you don't use more than half your monthly allotment, as a safety margin. In fact, I've been frequently using Opera Mini with images turned on during my 200MB Rogers data plan, and I still use less than 10MB Opera-specific data usage per month, but to begin with, I recommend you turn images off until you ascertain how much data usage you get out of Opera Mini. The data counter is a great feature Opera Mini gives you that BlackBerry Browser doesn't even give you, the ability to monitor your web data usage on a BlackBerry! Don't forget that reinstalling Opera Mini will erase your data counter, so take this into account. (This data counter is great even for BlackBerry-plan subscribers too)
  • Q: Should I turn off image download in Opera Mini?
    A: Yes, to begin with, especially if you're on the $5 data plan. You have one-click "download all images for this page" for those times when you feel you need to view images, anyway. Use the data counter in Opera Mini to monitor your web browsing. In Opera Mini, all images are automatically recompressed into low-quality JPEG's by default, so even image downloads of the most graphical websites such as takes well under 100 kilobytes, much like in BlackBerry Browser but with much better rendering capabilities. With images turned off, your web pages can be typically only 10 to 20KB each (depending on site), thanks to Opera Mini compression.
  • Q: I am using this much BlackBerry data per month. Is it safe to switch to a generic data plan?
    A: It is recommended to make sure you have a 3:1 safety margin if you decide to switch to a generic data plan. If you are a Rogers Canada user and your current usage is 3MB, the cheap Rogers Canada $10 for 10MB data plan would be very appropriate for your needs. For every 1MB of actual usage, figure in 3MB of generic data plan. This assumes you do not need to use BlackBerry email, and you plan to keep your usage similiar to what you have now. The extra safety margin ensures you are highly unlikely to have data overages. Most of the time, your actual usage will remain the same (assuming light email and chat usage), meaning 3MB remains close to 3MB when you switch from BlackBerry to non-BlackBerry. Your data usage may increase slightly with frequent launchings of GMAIL Mobile, leaving GMAIL Mobile running for longer periods, increased Opera Mini browsing from the novelty of having such a great mobile browser, etc. That is why this extra (potentially unnecessary) safety margin is recommended.
  • Q: What are the data overage costs?
    A: This varies by carrier, but on Rogers the data overage costs are 3 cents per kilobyte (as of the time of this writing) for a non-BlackBerry plan. While high, you can use a BlackBerry cautiously enough by doing things such as turning off images during web browsing. While the BlackBerry does not have a data counter, many applications such as Opera Mini and Google Maps Mobile, have a built-in data counter which you can read the total download, and make sure you don't use too much.
  • Q: How good is BlackBerry as an organizer?
    A: This is one of the advantages of switching to BlackBerry too, as well, as its organizer capabilities work fine without a BlackBerry plan. Organizer facilities are getting much better, and can synchronize its Addressbook and Calendar to Microsoft outlook your desktop computer. Macintosh synchronization software is also now available. BlackBerry Desktop can also convert data from Palm Desktop too, as well. There is also new third party PIM software that is becoming PalmPilot-quality.
  • Q: What do I benefit if I later upgrade to a real BlackBerry plan?
    A: Mainly, you get BlackBerry email, but other subtle benefits include the ability to use other BlackBerry applications such as BlackBerry Browser, wireless software install capability, ability to attach cameraphone pictures to email or MMS, ability to tether BlackBerry to a laptop (USB and Bluetooth), etc. If one of these capabilities is extremely important to you, you'll just have to pay the full BlackBerry fee which is kind of extreme in Canada.
  • Q: I have a "Data Connection Refused" message on my BlackBerry.
    A: Ignore this message - this is only for BlackBerry server (BIS). Opera Mini and other third party applications should still work, even when you see this message. Some people report this message dissappears after several hours.
  • Q: You say BlackBerry Browser should not work. But I heard some people have BlackBerry Browser working on a generic data plan?
    A: The reports are inconsistent, and depends on the carrier. According to a few reports by Rogers Canada users, the Rogers VISION data plan actually enables the WAP browsing feature on a BlackBerry, but there actually ends up being some rather severe prerequisites on Rogers Canada, for example:
    - You need to switch to a VISION data plan instead of Navigate data plan, and VISION plans have a 3-year committment;
    - You need a recent BlackBerry such as Pearl or Curve;
    - You need a recent compatible BlackBerry operating system such as T-Mobile OS (if you install T-Mobile BlackBerry OS on a Rogers BlackBerry, don't forget to delete the VENDOR.XML file and relaunch BlackBerry Desktop.)
    - You can only do WAP browsing, not HTML browsing.
    The main advantage of using BlackBerry WAP Browser, is WAP access and the ability to download third party software wirelessly, which is the easiest way to install third party software on a BlackBerry. Opera Mini should be used for full HTML browsing.
  • Q: My Google Maps works but my IM+ or JiveTalk chat software do not work!
    A: This is usually because it's trying to login through the BlackBerry network instead of through generic Internet data (TCP/IP through the APN). You need to configure your software's Settings to connect to the Internet using "TCP/IP" instead of "BIS". Instructions on how to configure third party software, can vary from program to program. In JiveTalk, this means go into "Preferences", scroll to bottom, and changing the "Transport" setting to "TCP" instead of "BIS". The BIS connection only works when you are subscribed to full BlackBerry service, so you must make sure the third party software are using generic TCP/IP instead.
  • Q: I downgraded my BlackBerry plan to a non-BlackBerry plan. My 3rd party apps stopped working!
    There are many reasons why this may be happening. Here is a checklist:
    - Verify that you really do have a generic data plan on your account.
    - Your carrier is replacing certain generic data plans. For example, the Rogers Navigate data plan is being superseded by the Rogers VISION plan. Verify that your carrier didn't remove a discontinued data plan from your account.
    - Make sure you have a lowercase "edge" / "gprs" displayed near your reception bars in the main BlackBerry screen, and you have good reception.
    - Make sure you are running BlackBerry OS 4.1 or later (Options -> About)
    - Make sure your APN is configured properly. (Options -> Advanced -> TCP -> APN)
    - Ignore the "Data Connection Refused" message.
    - Verify your software (IM+ / JiveTalk) is configured to "TCP/IP" instead of "BIS"
    - Reinstall your third party software (i.e. Opera Mini) if reconfiguring its Internet connection does not work.
    - Not all third party software function with generic data (i.e. RIM Google Talk won't work), replace with compatible software (i.e. replace RIM Google Talk with JiveTalk instead).
    - Reboot your BlackBerry after changing plans and reconfiguring settings. (Remove and reinsert battery after saving new settings)
    - Use Opera Mini instead of BlackBerry Browser.
    - If all else fails, upgrade your BlackBerry to the latest OS version by another carrier such as T-Mobile (some people report T-Mobile BlackBerry operating systems work much better with generic data)
  • Q: Is this legal?
    A: Yes it is. You're just choosing to use a BlackBerry as your regular consumer cellphone, with the same kind of data plan available to any cellphone. There are no locks on a BlackBerry preventing you to do so.
  • Q: Who made this FAQ?
    A: Mark Rejhon ( homepage) originally wrote this FAQ. Please keep this original credit intact, and do not delete this if you modify this FAQ. Thanks.
Mark Rejhon
Author of XMPP extension XEP-0301: - specification - open source

Last edited by Mark Rejhon; 10-30-2007 at 03:47 PM.. Reason: New FAQ additions