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This post addresses the following cell phone upgrade issues for U.S. specification Mercedes cars: 1) How to add a compatible plug-in phone to replace StarTacs or TimePorts when a service provider will no longer register them; 2) How to convert a StarTac or TimePort system to Bluetooth, or to add a Bluetooth system from scratch, in a Model Year ’00 through ’03 Benz; 3) How to add a cell phone to an ’03-’04 E-Class or ’04 S-Class; and 4) Cell phone options for plug-in and Bluetooth for MHI equipped cars (’05 and later). It also briefly addresses 5) compatibility issues and 6) a Tele-Aid digital replacement. Each topic is discussed in a post in the following string, so you don't have to read throigh it all to find what you need - just look at the numbered subject of each following post in the string.

Covering such a broad set of topics and address each class and type of vehicle would result in a monstrously long post – this will be long enough as it is. Therefore I will discuss a process for determining specific needs for your vehicle, using information posted by Paul H. Dick on his superb website. I will use my personal experience with the S-Class as an example, but point out that other classes will differ in physical location of equipment and may differ in part numbers; those differences are available on Paul’s site. I will also add that Paul’s knowledge of the ML far surpasses mine, and suggest that many questions about the ML are better addressed there.

I must also ask your forbearance regarding private messages or e-mails regarding specific cell phones. If I haven’t mentioned it, I haven’t seen it, and cannot answer specific questions on how to get it to work with your system. I address how to configure your car’s equipment, and point you to sources of cell phones that it will work with. I cannot go further. I also do not address 3rd party retrofits other than the MikBox, and have no experience with them.

That said, here we go.
 

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1. Replacing A Startac Or Timeport With A Plug-in Phone

Mercedes began using the analog/digital StarTac in MY ‘00, succeeding it with the TimePort in MY ’01. The Portable Support Electronics Equipment (PSE) was similar between the two, with the TimePort offering caller ID. During MY ’02, and for ’03, the TimePort was replaced by the Autosense PSE, which could be used with either the TimePort or the V60, by installing the proper cradle. Cars equipped with the D2B fiber optic bus continued to use the Autosense PSE into MY ’04.

The StarTac, TimePort, and V60 PSEs (including Autosense) required Mercedes-branded cell phones that had firmware developed specifically to integrate with the COMAND or other audio system through the fiber optic network. As a result, these phones were very expensive; and identical phones not supplied by Mercedes would simply be turned off by the system if plugged in.

To overcome this problem, MIK automotive (http://www.mikbox.com/) developed the MikBox for Motorola plug-in phones, which permits use of any modern non-MB branded Motorola plug-in phone (not a RAZR or other BT-only phone). It is a very simple and inexpensive add-on, and the phone will integrate with COMAND or your audio system very much the way your original MB branded phone did. See the tech pub on the installation in my '00 S500 at http://www.benzworld.org/tech.html?id=317 MIK’s site lists the phones that his equipment supports and discusses the functions available.

The MikBox is not a Bluetooth option. The advantage is you can change phones and service providers easily (you may need a new cradle for a new phone, but they aren't expensive). MIK supplies cradles to replace the StarTac, Timeport, and V60 cradles, modified for your MB jack and the antenna connection in your armrest, which your service provider probably would not. You can do the update in less than 15 minutes with a screwdriver.

Original equipment plug-in systems and the MikBox each use the car’s external antenna, not the cell phone’s. MY ’00 cars were by and large equipped with single-band linear compensators and antenna switches. The linear compensator is a low-powered amplifier that makes up for signal loss in the system, and the antenna switch connects the Tele-Aid system to the car’s external antenna when it is in use. The linear compensator should be replaced with the dual-band version from the ’01 model year or later. The antenna switch need not be replaced; the analog Tele-Aid system is being discontinued this calendar year because the FCC has reallocated its frequencies. The antenna leads can be wired direct, bypassing the antenna switch. The car’s external antenna does not have to be replaced (no matter what the dealer says)!!!

Dual band linear compensators are available on e-Bay, periodically, for about $50-$75 (perhaps less). So are dual band antenna switches. Both are available from dealers as individual components (last time I checked, compensators were about $400 and antenna switches about $150 from my dealer). In most cases, the compensators and antenna switches are the same among different classes, with only the mounting bracket being different.

MY ’01 and later cars had dual band equipment installed in the first place, so no change is required.

Where do you go for part numbers if you need them? To the phone bulletins on Paul H. Dick’s website, http://home.earthlink.net/~phdwebsite/phone_bulletins.htm. The phone bulletins contain installation instructions, diagrams, photographs, and part number listings. They tell you what kind of fiber optic bus your car has, cover installation of the voice control unit and CD changer, version coding of the fiber optic bus – and on the last page, provides the part numbers for PSEs, brackets, and cradle kits.

If you are upgrading your equipment to a newer version, all you need to do is go to the newer model for your class (usually to MY ’03 for V60 upgrades) to get the part numbers. You then use the bulletin for your model year to find where equipment is installed. That simple process is the key to nearly all of the upgrades for MY ’00-’03!!
 

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2. CONVERTING TO BLUETOOTH, MY ‘00- ’04 (except ’03-’04 E and ’04 S-Classes)

Whether your car has a phone system installed, or you are adding one for the first time, the necessary equipment is the same. The difference is that if you never had a phone system, your car will have to be “version coded” after the equipment is installed; and you may have to install brackets, and fuses. Version coding tells the fiber optic bus that the equipment is present; this is done by a dealer (and some independents) with a STAR diagnostics computer (a laptop with proprietary MB software).

The short version of the upgrade path for these cars is that you will replace the PSE with an Autosense version (if you don’t already have one), and then install the Mercedes V60 cradle kit (not an aftermarket cradle) for your car. Then, add the Bluetooth puck from AWS (https://www.wireless4mb.com/).

The first step when upgrading is to check the equipment you already have, including the Portable Support Electronics (PSE) and the phone cradle. If you purchased a preowned car, prior owners may have made changes. The most important part of the upgrade is the PSE. The PSE part numbers are as follows: StarTac PSE has part numbers Q 682 0460 or 9460, SYN 0234 A or B; the TimePort PSE has Q 682 0648 or 9648 (I don't know its SYN); and an Autosense has numbers Q 682 0754, SYN 9266A or B. The straight V60 PSE had numbers Q 682 0845, or 0886, SYN 9266B. The "Q" numbers may also show "BQ" (BQ 682 etc.) Since MB often upgrades equipment midstream in a production year, the best way to determine what you have is to take it out and look at it, per the phone bulletins. If you do not have a V60 PSE, you will have to replace your PSE with the “Autosense” version.

If you have an ’00-02 model, you will need the cradle kit for the ’03 version of your car. In most cases this is part number Q 682 0724; but please check the phone bulletins on Paul H. Dick’s site, http://home.earthlink.net/~phdwebsite/phone_bulletins.htm. Be sure you get the kit, because it contains the holder necessary for the cradle. If your car did not have a phone system installed, you may also need fuses, brackets, and other miscellaneous small items.

If you have an ’03 or an ‘04 model with an OE phone installation, (except the ’03-’04 E Class and the ’04 S-Class) you are home free. You should already have the V60 “Autosense” PSE, and the V60 cradle. All you need is a V60 Bluetooth puck from AWS (Welcome to AWS for Mercedes-Benz) and plug it into your current cradle. It's about $325. Mate a compatible Bluetooth phone (not necessarily one purchased from AWS – but see compatibility notes, later), and you're done.

For all models discussed, however, be aware that your V60 Bluetooth installation will use your cell phone’s antenna for communication with cell towers (it uses Bluetooth only to communicate with your COMAND or phone/audio system). The glass in MB cars has metallic IR coatings molded into it, which will reduce the signal between the phone and the tower. This may be worse where additional metallic films have been added.

But there is a solution. SmoothTalker sells cradles for a variety of Bluetooth phones and PDAs (at this time, Motorola, Nokia, and Blackberry) that will again connect your Bluetooth phone to the car’s external antenna, and allow charging as well. See http://www.smoothtalker.com/products/hands_free_holders_cradles_v710.php.

If you have a ’00 and use this option, however, you may need to upgrade your linear compensator to a dual band model; see the discussion above.

Now, of course, you must decide: Why do I want to upgrade to Bluetooth at all, if I have to plug the phone in? Why not just use a plug-in phone (the MikBox solution)? The answer depends on your particular needs. You have greater latitude in your phone choice with Bluetooth; and if you live in an area with a lot of good signal coverage, you may not need the plug-in cradle at all.

It is possible to wire direct from a cradle to the car's external antenna and bypass those components; however, signal strength will be significantly improved with a linear compensator; and an antenna switch is necessary if Tele-aid is to be kept functional.
 

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3. THE SPECIAL CASE: MY ’03- ’04 E-Class and ‘04 S-Class

The following information is what I have been able to glean from other contributor’s posts; I have not seen this done myself, and would welcome any feedback.

The MY ’03-’04 E Class and ’04 S-Class were equipped with a PSE that combined the Tele-Aid and cell phone support equipment into one unit called the CP-211. All that is necessary in these cars is to “activate” the cell option with STAR diagnosis, and add the proper V60 cradle (kit Q 682 0882 for the S-Class; Q 682 0828 for the ’03 or ’04 E-Class). In addition, the E-Class phone bulletins indicate that a linear compensator and cable are necessary (only for plug-in operation, I would add), and the ’03 E-Class requires an Audio 50 firmware update.

Once the activation is done, a Bluetooth “Puck with Tail” is used. This puck differs from the puck used in other ’00-04 cars.

A caveat for owners of cars other than the E-Class and S-Class discussed in this section: The V60 cradle for these cars does not use the same connectors as the one for your installation, and it should not be substituted. In addition, I have no idea what the outcome of adding a CP-211 PSE to an earlier car that still had its original Tele-Aid equipment in place. Although it may be possible to take the OE Tele-Aid out of the fiber optic loop, I don’t know if the CP-211 can be made to work in installations for which it was not designed.
 

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4. UPGRADE OF CARS WITH MULTIPLE HANDSET INTERFACE (MHI – MY ’05 and later)

The MHI system is used in U.S. specification cars equipped with the MOST fiber optic bus from model year ’05 on. This covers all models except for the G-Class and the ML, which remain equipped with a D2B fiber optic bus and continue to use an Autosense PSE. The V60 upgrade path set out above will not work with the ’05 and later cars except the ML and G Class (which use later versions of the Autosense PSE than discussed above). I apologize to R-Class and Unimog owners; I have no information on them.

MHI equipped cars can use either a cradle for a Mercedes-branded plug-in phone that offers full integration; or a Bluetooth puck that replaces the plug-in cradle; and works with different kinds of Bluetooth phones; or a phone-specific Bluetooth/cradle combination that connects the phone (or PDA) to the car’s external antenna. The AWS website at https://www.wireless4mb.com/ covers all of these options with a vehicle equipment compatibility matrix and a phone compatibility page for your car.

The plug-in phones offered by AWS for MHI are still expensive, because they still use the MB proprietary firmware for integration. Non MB branded plug-in phones still will not work with MHI in a plugged-in mode (on-MB branded plug-in phones such as the Motorola V710 that also have Bluetooth capability can be used with the MB Bluetooth unit, subject to the equipment and firmware limitations discussed earlier).

The Bluetooth puck for MHI can be used with a variety of non-MB branded Bluetooth phones, subject to the same limitations as those discussed for the V60 puck for earlier models. The MHI puck also uses the phone’s antenna, not the car’s, in the Bluetooth mode, unless one purchases either a cradle such as the SmoothTalker (http://www.smoothtalker.com/products/hands_free_holders_cradles_v710.php) or one of the AWS cradle/Bluetooth combination units listed on their site. The advantage of such a combination unit is that one can connect to the car’s external antenna for greater signal strength (stronger signal, fewer dropped calls, less static, and sometimes better voice quality) than one gets using only the phone’s antenna; but where signal strength is satisfactory, the phone need not be plugged in. The combo units also allow charging of the phone in the car.
 

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5. Compatibility Issues

The following compatibility issues apply to all current MB Bluetooth units, regardless of whether they are V60 pucks, MHI pucks, or MHI cradle/Bluetooth combo units.

According to American Wireless Solutions, the cell phone sales unit that Mercedes has partnered with for wireless communication in its vehicles, compatibility issues are twofold: 1) equipment compatibility, and 2) firmware compatibility. AWS tests both phones and firmware for compatibility with the Peiker-manufactured MB Bluetooth equipment. They test phones in addition to those that they sell, and firmware other than that used in phones that they sell. However, firmware is provided by individual cell providers; AWS has no control over it, and does not write the firmware. The AWS website has a compatibility matrix for vehicles and Bluetooth equipment on its site; and the phones it sells are compatible (“approved”). AWS uses a 90-day test period for pones and firmware. Before you purchase a phone from a source other than AWS, you should check with them when you buy your Bluetooth equipment to see if the phone and firmware you are buying is compatible. In some cases, AWS will not ship the equipment unless you verify that you have a compatible phone.

The compatibility issues manifest themselves in freeze-ups of COMAND, failure to properly download phone books, dropped calls or disconnects from the Bluetooth unit, and poor voice quality. For more on these issues, see:
1) http://forums.mbworld.org/forums/showthread.php?t=180547 for a discussion of compatibility and connectivity issues; it deals with the RAZR V3, but is applicable to most phones.
2) http://forums.mbworld.org/forums/showthread.php?p=2083799#post2083799 for a discussion on some phone book download problems not caused by firmware conflicts, that may appear as conflicts.

AWS advises me that some folks are able to get phone book downloads, etc. with unapproved firmware, but eventually they run into problems with system freezes, inability to download features they could in the past, and they get poor voice quality. I have no personal experience with this. Some folks have no problem with some unapproved firmware, AWS says, because their phones have firmware that is compatible in fact, but that has not been tested (after it is tested, and works, it is "approved"). The test is a 3-month trial process.

Some recurrent compatibility problems: Sprint firmware; TREO PDAs.

A new Bluetooth puck has just been advertised in Europe for the UHI system. I believe the puck implements the Bluetooth 2.0 protocol, which will improve compatibility and will hopefully allow easier use of a wider variety of phones. I also anticipate that a newer puck for MHI will be developed, probably following the European version much as the MHI pucks followed the UHI. I do not know what the precise capabilities of the new puck are (or will be) at this time.


STILL ANOTHER SOLUTION

If a Bluetooth installation will not meet your needs, but the phone you wish to carry is Bluetooth only, consider a two-line solution. Use a plug-in phone in your car; sign up for a family plan, and get a second number, and assign that number to the phone you carry. Give out only one number, and set that number for no-answer call forwarding (if your carrier offers this feature). Regardless of which phone you elect to carry, you will always receive calls in your car on a phone that is fully integrated with it, and through which all of the design features of the car’s system are available (including display on COMAND or other audio system, better signal strength, full phone book download, and the like). This is especially affordable if you are already on a family plan.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
6. Tele-aid Upgrade To Digital

The FCC has reallocated the frequencies used by the analog Tele-Aid system in early 2008, and MB is discontinuing its analog Tele-Aid service by February 2008, according to correspondence I had with them.
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With respect to Tele-Aid, Wolfgang has posted some information on an analog-to-digital upgrade for older cars. I don't know how this upgrade will affect the equipment required as discussed here, if at all. See Wolfgang's Telematics page. One contributor has reported that he had the Tele-Aid upgrade done; Cost for the new Tele-Aid unit is $600; plus $294 for 1 year of service; or plus $548 for 2 years of service. These are MB MSRP, but the dealer is free to set its own price. Prices do not include labor.
 
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