TechnoFILE is copyright and a registered trademark © ® of
Pandemonium Productions.
All rights reserved.
E-mail us Here!
Sierra Wireless AirCard

Wirelessly Cruising the Info and the Asphalt Superhighways

By Jim Bray

If you’re on the road a lot and don’t want to be out of touch with home, the office - or just the world in general - your cellphone company has a nifty solution.

It’s 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 isn’t 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 doesn’t seem much faster than regular dialup - it’s really quite wonderful considering the circumstances.

Imagine what it’s 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 you’re 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, it’s as handy in hotel rooms as it is in the car. More so, in fact, because notebook PC screens often can’t 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 isn’t nearly as convenient as carrying around a tiny cellphone.

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, it’s incredibly convenient and if I could justify the expense (and traveled more!), I’d 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 off.

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 for business.

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 I’ve tried it I’m not sure I’d want to travel without being “unwired” again.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think













Support TechnoFile
via Paypal

TechnoFILE's E-letter
We're pleased to offer
our FREE private,
private E-mail service.
It's the "no brainer"
way to keep informed.

Our Privacy Policy

January 31, 2006