Cell Phone Internet Connections
Regular visitors here probably know that my wife and I take long weekends all summer long. We usually head out to our camper trailer on Thursday and come back on Mondays. Before you get too jealous, understand that doesn't mean I'm not working. I often visit clients on the way out, on the way back, and I'm on the phone and on the computer all the time we are there. I do work a little bit less then, but if a client calls or sends email at 7:00 A.M. Sunday, they will usually get a reply very quickly. Let's put it this way: a 60 hour week would be a short, relaxing week for me, summer or winter.
If nothing else, I have to keep up with email. If I let it pile up while gone, I'd have to spend all day Tuesday answering it. Email is a very large part of my business now, both for support contracts and for opportunities that first arrive that way. And while email doesn't have quite the urgency of a phone call, people still expect a reasonably quick reply: I really prefer to answer within a few hours at worst.
But sometimes that's a problem. The trip out to our summer place is only two and a half hours if you just drive without stopping, but if I visit a client or two, and we stop for lunch, and maybe some supplies like paper towels or whatever we might need, that can become an all day affair. We've left our home at 7:00 AM and not arrived until after 4:00 PM more than once. My office phone automatically forwards to my cell phone after three rings, so I'm not unreachable, but I do not like not being able to answer important email for that long a period.
Cell Phones, Text Messaging etc.
You can get text messaging with almost any cell phone nowadays, and it's no great trick to forward email to that. The problem is that it's too hard to read that way: long messages get broken up, the cellphone doesn't have a great keyboard, and it just isn't worth the trouble.
There are devices that do a better job. But I don't want yet another thing to carry around with me, and none of the combined cellphones/internet/email devices I've seen so far really pull it all off very well. Really, my computer is what I want to use, because that has all my contacts, all my bookmarks, stored email, and everything else I might need.
Someday, wireless everywhere
Someday there will be wireless access everywhere. Verizon has said that they plan to turn pay phones into wireless access points. That makes great sense, but it's still off in the future: I need my email now. That's why I was glad to stumble across a newsgroup post that told me about Smith Micro's Quick Link Mobile kits for Windows or Mac. These kits are software that you download, and a cable that connects your phone to your PC (there's also a Bluetooth version that needs no cable).
(Bruce Garlock found that he could just use a Radio Shack cable and built-in software for his Internet Access)
You can't use just any old cell phone: the cables are specific for certain phones. Fortunately, my Nokia 7160 is one of the phones that they have a cable for. You also need to have a cell phone carrier that offers Wireless Internet. Most do nowadays, and Cingular (which is what I have) offers two different plans: a $3.99 per month plan that just uses your existing minutes, and a different plan that charges by bytes transferred instead. Other cellular carriers offer similar packages.
My first wireless connection
Last Thursday, after I visited a client, we stopped at a Papa Gino's for lunch, and after lunch I connected the Smith-Micro cable to my cell phone and fired up the Quick Link software. I was very pleasantly surprised that it immediately identified my phone, knew that it was Cingular without my doing anything, and I was connected within a very few seconds. While this isn't broadband, it was quite usable. I could browse the Internet, and ssh access to my own web site was of course not painful at all. I would suggest either text mail access or Imap if you get as much email as I do, but this was no worse than dial-up modem access. I was able to retrieve and respond to several important emails.
As we had to stop yet again to do some shopping an hour later, I had the opportunity to use it again, and the connection was every bit as quick and painless.
I'll be using this from now on whenever I'm out of touch too long.
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