Mobile Wireless Computing

Charlie Wilson is a video editor for CBS News in Washington D.C.
The trend these days in mobile families, and single people, is to ditch their traditional land-line service and use their cell phone exclusively. With today's cell packages it is economically feasible compared to the $1 a minute when cell phones first debuted in the 1970's. Also more cell towers have made the quality inside buildings and especially homes, much better. In my case it comes down to the carrier. In my area only one carrier works in my home in the burbs, but if you live near a major city, chances are it will work for most at home.

Internet connections have traditionally been through a cable of some kind, phone line, Cable TV, or DSL riding on a phone line. Some cell phones say they have internet capability, but it only takes a short time to realize that cell phone internet is much slower than you are used to. Now a new service offered by 3 carriers, changes all that. EVDO (Evolution Data Only) cards provide near DSL speeds wirelessly. I have Verizon, and there is Sprint and Cingular-AT&T. If you are a mobile person and can afford the service fee, usually about twice the wired services, you now can go anywhere you would get cell phone coverage and have internet service that is almost as fast as wired, but not tethered to a device. I have been using mine for over a year, and love it. I can tell it's slightly slower, but nothing that feels restricting.

However there is a catch. Only some laptops have the slot for a EVDO card. To the rescue are WiFi routers that have a slot for the EVDO card and in less than the time it takes to boot up your laptop, the router is signed on to the network and you are ready to operate. The one I use is by D-Link which runs on AC or Car battery, and there are others. Just search for EVDO routers and you will find several. You can name your router's WiFi (SSID) just like a conventional router, and have your laptop look for that signal first. If signal strength is weak from the cell tower, you can also add a small antenna that you can elevate or place near a window for a stronger signal to the EVDO card. You can also send this signal to several using a standard WiFi extender antenna on the router end. I have mine on at home all the time as a back-up and everyone in the house can select it if the main DSL goes out.

Now here's the bad news. You have to have a computer with a PCIMA slot to set up your EVDO card and need to go back to that periodically for updates from your service provider. I have one laptop, a Mac Powerbook, that has the slot, and once a month I used it in the Mac for updates. Also, the service providers frown on sharing a EVDO signal, in fact is says in the terms of agreement that it is for single use only, but so did internet in the home before routers came along, and I know of now wired provider that prohibits routing the internet connection to several within your house, so I hope that restriction will fade away with popularity.

Another thing to consider, some new laptops like the MacBook Pro use a new Mini ExpressCard slot that is ½ the width. At this time I do not know of any routers that have this slot.

I used this is in my mobile DJ business. If someone requests a song I don't have, I can download right from iTunes and have it ready before the song playing ends. A local All-News radio station in Washington, D.C., WTOP, uses EVDO to file stories from the field rather than cell phones. I also have spent time recently in a hospital waiting room and hotels, and it works everywhere I have gone, and without some of the portal problems or cost through some hotel WiFi systems. I feel this advance in technology is close to indoor plumbing from outhouse in scale, and ease. Now if I could only watch HBO on my hand-held TV. I understand XM and Sirus are both working on that too.