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Wireless E-Mail: Wonder or Woe? Part I

July 23, 2000

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Editor's Note: Over the next few days, we'll be sharing the experiences of Newport editors with using wireless Internet access on the road.
My quest for a cell phone attachment for wireless e-mail started last December, when a friend of mine told me he bought a special modem and used his Nokia regularly for his e-mail. He said I could now send and receive e-mail without going into a truckstop or hotel with the computer. I was so excited, I thought he had re-invented Christmas!
I went from Radio Shack to CompUSA, to Computer City, to Service Merchandise, to AT&T, Pacific Bell, Office Depot, Office Max, etc., without any luck. Often I was told, "I believe some of our larger stores carry the modem and connecting cord." They kept me going from city to city. Most suggested I call Nokia directly. So I did.
I phoned Nokia, and they told me they would overnight one of their modems and special adapter cords to me. However, I declined. I was on deadline and moving rapidly across the country; and I didn't want to stop and wait for mail to arrive. Besides, the 3Com cellular PCMIA card cost $234.55 and the cable cost another $89.95. With a price tag around $325 I wanted to be certain I got it right the first time.

In Oregon, through luck and serendipity, I found a Joe Johanesen, a knowledgeable, computer tech and advisor, who has run his own computer shop for over 20 years. Super nice guy. He told me to back off on the modem and cable. "The highest speed you can get, under ideal conditions and location, is 14K," he said. Ideal conditions and location translates into a clear day, good copper in the ground, and a major metro area nearby with excellent phone service. With today's technology, "normal speed" is at the very slow rate of 3.4K to 4.8K."
Taking the technical trip with Johanesen, I discovered it is fairly simple to send and receive wireless e-mail, but under present conditions, when you upload or download, it takes "forever," eating up precious minutes on the cell phone.
However, Johanesen told me, the PCMCIA card manufacturer hinted at a breakthrough around Christmas that would mean faster speeds.
Hoping all of this was a bad dream, I called my friend, the guy who originally told me about his Nokia/modem setup, only to learn he did say it worked very well, but he did forget to tell me how slow it was. Shame on me. In my enthusiasm and attempted quantum leap into a new cyberspace culture, I forgot to ask.
I'll still keep hoping, looking and listening. If I find the pot of gold that works at 21K or better, I'll e mail everyone I know the information -- naturally, from my cell phone!

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