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Over the Air Synching Issues

Exchange Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Mobile 5 Devices with AKU1 and AKU2

 

The following article is a reprint that originally appeared on pocketnow.com back in March of 2006, nearly 3 years ago.  I am reprinting it here for a couple of reasons:

  1. The article can no longer be found on pocketnow.com
  2. I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries about it recently, and wanted to repost it, this time on my blow so that everyone that was interested, could find it and reference it if possible.  While the OS in question here, WM5 has long ago been replaced, the problems and conclusions are still relevant.

INTRODUCTION
    I’ve been using a Palm Treo 700w for just over 60 days now.  I wrote pocketnow.com’s review of the Treo 700w back in January, and documented a problem with OTA (Over the Air) Synching in the Help Support section of the review, near the bottom of page 2.  I further commented on the issue in all of the blogs that I’ve been posting regarding my experience with the device.  You can see the latest one here.  If you’d like to review all 13 blog entries, you can get access to them from that page. Where possible, I’ve tried to recreate the issues and take current screen shots of all the conditions.

    Anywho, in my last post, I promised to give everyone as clear an explanation of what I was seeing, complete with screen shots from the device.  Without much more hub-bub, here we go…

WHAT’S THE BUZZ? TELL ME WHAT’S A-HAPPENIN’
The line from Jesus Christ Superstar may be a bit misleading, but is still apropos.  I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they’d love to see, specifically, what I’m seeing on my Treo 700w.  Interestingly enough, I’ve able to reproduce this problem on three (3) different Windows Mobile 5 devices running on three (3) different wireless carriers.  All three devices, the Palm Treo 700w, the i-mate K-JAM and the Sprint PPC-6700 were running WM5 AKU1 until earlier this week when I upgraded my i-mate K-JAM to the new AKU2 ROM with Microsoft Direct Push technology; but more on the AKU2 ROM upgrade as it relates to this issue, later.

After I got the 700w hooked up to ActiveSync, created a partnership, etc., I noticed that the 700w, on occasion, would have problems synchronizing information with the Exchange Server over the air.  I noticed that I wasn’t getting updates to Calendar, Contacts or e-Mail as I wanted, or had configured.  When I looked at ActiveSync on the device, it displayed the following:

ota-01

ActiveSync on my Treo 700w would occasionally display this error

 

Curious  to know what was going on, I tapped the View status link, and saw the following:

ota-02

ota-03

Tapping View status showed me the most recent sync attempt status

Tapping the View Support Code link in the screen to the left, displayed the support code, shown above

 

If you go to Chris De Herrera’s Pocket PC FAQ and check out his page on Exchange ActiveSync Errors and Solutions, and search for the Support code the Treo threw, you find the following explanation to the error:

The request has timed out. It is generally a temporary or recoverable situation.

The solution listed on the FAQ is to try again later.  The problem is, after this error code is encountered, the device can’t and won’t sync over the air any more.  The only way to clear the condition and reestablish synchronization with your Exchange Server, over the air, is to soft reset the device.  Putting the phone into Flight Mode and then turning Flight Mode off (turning the cellular radio on and off) doesn’t resolve the issue.  Connecting the device to the USB cable may or may not sync the device with the Exchange Server through the PC’s LAN connection.  If your PC does connect to the device (there seems to be a problem with the way AS 4.x connects to the device via USB cable too.  Sometimes you connect, other times you have to bounce the box (a simple log-out/log-in doesn’t reestablish the USB connection) before the device will reconnect via USB, but that’s ANOTHER problem…), you’ll be able to sync when cradled/ connected via USB cable, but may or may not be able to sync over the air.  However, a soft reset on the device always gets you back.

So that’s the basic description of the problem.  Here are the funny things.  When I encounter this problem, I’m almost always STILL connected to the Internet.  I can bring up Pocket Internet Explorer and browse the web until I turn blue; but I can’t sync OTA with Exchange.  What’s even more interesting is that I can reproduce the issue almost exactly, on both the K-JAM or PPC-6700 (both with AKU1).  Occasionally, the K-JAM would display a different screen:

kjam_ota-01

Sometimes, it seems ActiveSync would just stall… Notice the "G" icon on the top bar. I’m still connected to the Internet, and can surf the Internet.

 

In EVERY occasion, on all three devices, the line of text, under, "Exchange Server," would read, "Synchronizing Folders", and then change to "Looking for changes".  That text indicates that the device found the Exchange Server and was able to log into my account on the Server. What’s frustrating the most is that even when AS OTA craps out,  the synchronization marker on the device was changed to the current date and time. It didn’t happen in the above, because the devices never got passed the, "Synchronizing folders" stage.

WHAT WE THOUGHT WAS GOING ON
Knowing that I could NOT possibly be alone in all of this, I gave one of my WM colleagues a call.  I knew this person was using a Treo 700w as his primary device.  My biggest fear in all of this, is that despite setting the Treo up to sync as new items arrived in the Mobile Schedule (which NEVER worked right on the Treo 700w, BTW; and I think it has something with the way Verizon Wireless sends SMS/Text Messages…), people would simply change the sync schedule to some other value, like Every 5 Minutes or Every 10 Minutes, etc., and simply dismiss the problem. 

When I talked to my friend, I found that he had done just that, not thinking anything of it.  It was just some weird behavior or anomaly that needed to be worked around. Our conversation sparked him to do some investigation of his own, and he got on the horn to his contacts at Palm.  It should be noted, that though my friend’s problems involved 4SmartPhone.net, this problem is NOT limited to just them.  The problems and symptoms we are encountering can be experienced on EVERY Exchange Server.

In a nutshell, we thought that the Treo (and consequently the K-JAM and the PPC-6700) were having trouble with Proxy Servers and resolving our Exchange Server’s IP Addresses across the Internet.  Verizon (and every wireless carrier) are constantly changing their wireless network configurations on their cell towers.  Your device/Smartphone/cell phone communicates with your carrier’s network via those towers.  The location of these towers, both existing and new ones, are maintained in your device’s PRL or Preferred Roaming List. 

GSM-based wireless devices have their PRL’s updated automatically.  GSM towers get their PRL’s directly via the closest cell tower.  When you go from Point A to Point B and turn on your GSM based wireless device, it finds the closest compatible cell tower and downloads a copy of the PRL.  Your device then uses that PRL for communicating in that area.  When you go from Point B to Point N (meaning anywhere…) it does the same thing all over again.

Verizon requires you to manually update your PRL.  To do this on ANY Verizon Wireless phone, do the following:

  1. Dial *228
  2. Choose option number 1
  3. Wait for the unit to becomes unlocked and receives a comment saying that the update was successfully completed
  4. Click on dismiss
  5. Place the device into Flight Mode (Hold down the red hang up button until you see the VzW Goodbye splash screen.  The PDA half of the device will still be on.)
  6. Take the device out of Flight Mode (Hold down the red hang up button until you see the VzW Welcome splash screen.  The Phone half of the device will turn back on.)

Verizon includes this documentation in the box with the Treo, with instructions for you to do this every 2-4 weeks.

To get to the Internet on your wireless carrier’s network, your device communicates with a nearby cell tower, that communicates with a proxy server, that gets you on the Internet.  If you can’t get to a tower correctly, you can’t communicate with a proxy server, and therefore, can’t communicate with the Exchange Server. If you’re moving in a car, and can still surf the Internet, but can’t sync, this behavior is still logical because one would think that you’ve just moved BACK into an area that’s being serviced by a cell tower that your phone already recognizes with the PRL you have in your phone.

Both he and I updated the PRL’s in our Treos, and poof!  The problem seemed to be resolved. However, if this was the solution, updating your PRL every 14 days or so, it was a problem.  Most users don’t know to do this, and don’t even bother doing this once or twice a year, let alone once ever 2-4 weeks.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Yeah…not so much.  Unfortunately, Palm and Microsoft did a little more investigation and discovered that updating your PRL is NOT the solution to this problem.  So even if you updated your PRL, and it seemed to resolve the problem, it will likely come back; and it did (hence the screens shots you saw on the previous page…).  The most frustrating thing about this problem is that it seems to be completely random. 

I tried a number of different test cases to try to identify the issue.  Over the past few months, I’ve run and rerun the following tests:


Test Cases

Sync All

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Contacts, Calendar and e-Mail.
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Press the Sync button on the device to initiate a synchronization

or

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Contacts, Calendar and e-Mail.
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Wait for a new Inbox item to arrive and watch ActiveSync start synching

Sync Contacts Only

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Contacts
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Press the Sync button on the device to initiate a synchronization

or

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Contacts
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Wait for a new Inbox item to arrive and watch ActiveSync start synching

Sync e-Mail Only

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: e-Mail
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Press the Sync button on the device to initiate a synchronization

or

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: e-Mail
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Wait for a new Inbox item to arrive and watch ActiveSync start synching

Sync Calendar Only

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Calendar
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Press the Sync button on the device to initiate a synchronization

or

  1. Establish a partnership with the Windows PC
  2. Configure the Treo for Exchange Active Sync: Calendar
  3. Perform a sync with the Windows PC and Exchange Server via USB cable
  4. Disconnect the device
  5. Configure the Mobile Schedule
    1. Configure to Sync as Items Arrive (with the correct device SMS address, available via Start, Settings, System Tab, About, Phone Tab)
  6. Establish a wireless connection to EV-DO/1xRTT Network
  7. Start ActiveSync on the Treo 700w (Start, Programs, ActiveSync)
  8. Wait for a new Inbox item to arrive and watch ActiveSync start synching


Every time my tests were run, The device appears to receive the correct SMS message from the Exchange Server to initiate the sync. The sync started.  I was able to note that on occasion, the sync would succeed, but attempting to find a pattern to the failures was not possible.  The failures seem truly random, from a networking perspective. As I’ve said before, soft resetting the device usually cleared up the problem, for a while at least; which tells me that this is either memory or resource related…but I can’t seem to find the pattern there either.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONs AND AKU2
While I would like to say that upgrading my K-JAM to the AKU2 ROM that i-mate recently released resolves the issue, I can’t.  I am still bumping into the "Waiting for Network" status from ActiveSync on my device.

kjam_ota-01

Even after upgrading my K-JAM to AKU2, I still have problems…

 

Even after a soft reset, you can STILL bump into problems.  Something is definitely wrong.  The above screen shot is from 10-Mar-06.  The screen shots below are from today (13-Mar-06).

ota-04

ota-05

Whoops!  Even with AKU2, I can get the Dreaded View Status Link

You can see the connection status in the "G" icon, and the network Support code…

I spoke again to one of my WM colleagues and he’s still bumping into the problem, and it still seems random to him. I’ve got yet another conference call with Microsoft scheduled for today where we are supposed to talk about this.  I’m going to suggest that we all collaborate on this issue to see if we can’t coordinate this effort and get to the bottom of it quickly.  I know this is going to frustrate a lot of people if they continue to bump into it as much as I have over the last 60 days.

There is a theory that there’s a configuration issue with Exchange Server 2003 SP2 and AKU1 devices, but as you can see from the above, that may not necessarily be the case.  I’m very confused, and very concerned…

If you have bumped into this issue, or if you know of someone that’s bumped into this issue, please make certain they respond back to this article in the comments section so we can contact you if we have questions.  As soon as I have any further information, I promise to get the results out to everyone, so please continue to watch my home page.

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