Wirelessly Cruising the Info and the Asphalt
By Jim Bray
If youre on the road a lot and dont want to be out of
touch with home, the office - or just the world in general - your cellphone
company has a nifty solution.
Its wireless Internet service that, instead of offering
Mickey Mouse text service on your phone handset, uses a PCMCIA card to give you
complete Internet and cellphone service through your notebook computer. And
while it isnt cheap, at least not yet, it can be a valuable tool.
I had the opportunity to try out this marvelous technology on a
road trip this past Spring, thanks to phone company Telus and its Sierra
wireless AirCard. The technology consists of an ordinary-looking PC card with a
little antenna sticking out from it (plus your own notebook or laptop PC), and
though the service doesnt seem much faster than regular dialup -
its really quite wonderful considering the circumstances.
Imagine what its like to be in the passenger seat of a
moving car, checking and replying to e-mail and surfing the World Wide Web to
get up to date information on the places or companies youre about to
visit. What a boon to the traveling businessman!
Or just the traveler in general
It made me wonder how I ever traveled before, though on the other
hand I did manage to live without the technology for what my kids think is a
geological number of years.
And because this wireless service goes with you wherever you take
your notebook PC, its as handy in hotel rooms as it is in the car. More
so, in fact, because notebook PC screens often cant be seen in bright
sunlight and this can ruin their effectiveness in a moving car.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you feel about
weather), my trip happened in crummy weather, where it was cloudy virtually the
whole time away. This allowed me to use the PC in the car and that was by far
the niftiest aspect of the technology.
The service is available from various cellphone service providers,
and the coverage area depends on where you live. I was amazed to find that on
my trip through mostly rural areas I had coverage nearly everywhere I went.
There were a few places where the service bombed out, but they were rare and
quite small. Overall, it was outstanding.
Depending on your service plan and hardware, you can even plug a
little earphone/microphone thingy into the PC card and use it as a voice phone.
Audio quality is surprisingly good, though of course slogging a notebook PC
under your arm isnt nearly as convenient as carrying around a tiny
And the service is a tad dear now. The cards can cost $300US or
more, and the service itself (the cell phone plan) can add a lot more to that,
depending on how much you use it. Some providers charge extra for voice calls
from the card, as well as for upload/downloads, so best to check into this
before buying one.
Still, its incredibly convenient and if I could justify the
expense (and traveled more!), Id leap at it.
And once prices come down - or if someone would offer a service by
which you could subscribe on an as-needed basis - I can see it really taking
Not just for business, either, though of course being able to
write off the expense is a powerful incentive. But my experience was on a road
trip that combined business with pleasure, and I used the Internet access as
much or more for pleasure-related purposes (finding tourist sites etc.) than
Okay, Internet access may not seem like a priority for a vacation
trip, but being able to surf the Web from the passenger seat of a moving car
(and from motel rooms along the way) let our little traveling band keep on top
of not only what was on tap in a particular area (including where to stay,
places eat, and the like) but supposedly up to date road and weather conditions
and highway maps as well.
Now that Ive tried it Im not sure Id want to
travel without being unwired again.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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