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    Wired still whipping wireless in data

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver June 6-12, 2006 issue #867

    High Tech Office column; 

    I first heard of 3G about five years ago; a third generation of wireless phone networks, promising data transmission speeds on a par with wired broadband. Like many any-day-now technology revolutions, it’s taken longer than the evangelists promised, long enough that the cellphone companies started to market not-quite-there-yet 2.5G services to fill the gaps.

    In the interim, many laptop users have begun to rely on WiFi wireless networking. But while WiFi offers reasonable Internet connection speeds, users can only connect when they’re in range of a hot-spot in a café, office, hotel or meeting room. And while home WiFi access points are cheap and popular and some hotels and cafés offer the service for free, airport and hotel service can often be pricey.

    After years of hype, the first 3G services have been rolled out quietly, with Rogers and Fido first offering high-speed EDGE service and Bell Mobility and Telus now introducing 1x EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) services in large Canadian cities, accompanying similar U.S. offerings by Verizon and Sprint Nextel. 1x EvDO outpaces EDGE, promising download speeds of between 400 and 700 kbps (kilobytes per second), though bandwidth may vary.

    To make use of any of these services, you’ll need a contract with a provider and compatible hardware. EvDO support is showing up in some phone and Blackberry models, in Palm’s just-announced Treo 700p PDA and Motorola’s upcoming Moto Q smartphone. It’s also built into some new notebook models such as Lenovo’s Thinkpad Z61m.

    For notebooks lacking built-in support add-in PC Cards are available from several manufacturers.

    With competing 3G standards, each likely to be upgraded in the future, an add-in PC Card might prove a better choice than a notebook with built-in (but limited) hardware. EvDO-equipped cellphones and PDAs can, in some cases, be used as modems connecting to a notebook either via Bluetooth or wired with a USB cable. I recently had loan of a Kyocera Passport EvDO PC Card and use of a Bell Mobility account, letting me test the service on my Windows notebook. Bell is offering service that is billed based on the amount of data transmitted rather than the time connected, allowing users to always remain online.

    On my Windows XP notebook, installation of Kyocera’s software and hardware was quick and straightforward; afterwards it connected to Bell’s network with no fuss.

    On a test downloading a large file, performance was in the advertised range, though my web browser reported the speed as the equivalent 40 kbps. That’s about eight to 10 times as fast as I would get with a standard dial-up connection.

    For comparison, I downloaded the same file from the same server at the same time on another computer using my home cable Internet connection. That download proceeded at about 400 kbps, about 10 times faster than the EvDO connection.

    Both Bell and Telus promise EvDO coverage throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. On a ferry and then on the Sunshine Coast, I was able to get online without a problem, but, connected via the slower 1x network, performance dropped to about 12 kbps.

    Based on my rough tests, mobile broadband isn’t as fast as wired (or WiFi), but it offers service that will be fast enough for many uses and can untie users from tethers to both network cables and wireless hot spots.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan