new ways to stay connected on the go
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
October 3-9, 2006; issue 884
High Tech Office
Getting online on the go is easier than it used to be but can still be
problematic. You can look for a Wi-Fi wireless hotspot in a
café, hotel lobby or from a neighbour who hasn’t bothered
to turn on router security settings. Sometimes something’s
available, though too many hotels still charge too much for what ought
to be a basic amenity.
If you have the right cellphone and plan, you might be able to use it
to get your laptop online, but at best you’ll get a slow and
Recently, though, two more options have become available.
offering what the company calls Rogers Portable Internet, a $99 black
box about the size and weight of a trade paperback. Setup is easy, with
no technician visit needed. Just plug it into an electric outlet and
connect it to your computer’s network port, and magically
you’ve got a broadband Internet connection – if not quite
anywhere, at least anywhere in 20 Canadian metropolitan areas from
Victoria to Saint Johns.
The company is promising to expand the area covered in Canada and is
hoping to negotiate roaming agreements for U.S. coverage. And as you
travel to areas covered by the service, getting online is as simple as
packing along the Portable Internet device and plugging it in.
The system is wireless, connecting to the same data network used by
Rogers’ cellphone customers. Promised bandwidth is 1.5 mbps
download and 256 kbps upload – not as fast as wired cable or DSL
access but not too shabby – about 20 times dial-up. The cost: $50
a month. Rogers notes that, unlike standard Wi-Fi, its portable option
is a secure protocol, so neighbours or strangers in parked cars
can’t piggyback onto your Internet account.
With the addition of a wired or wireless router, you can even share the
Internet connection between multiple computers.
Rogers Portable Internet offers good performance in its 20 Canadian
metropolitan areas. But if you’re frequently elsewhere,
that’s not much use. When all else fails, there’s always
old-style dial-up. That’s right: plugging your computer’s
modem into an analog phone jack (office digital lines don’t work)
and connecting to an Internet service provider.
Of course that assumes you’ve got an account with a dial-up
service provider. And it’s not a very useful option if your
ISP’s access number is in Vancouver when you’re somewhere
far away. And old-style dial-up is slow.
has long had the largest number of local access numbers worldwide. Now,
Netscape Canada is using clever technology to bring warp speed to
dial-up. By compressing text and graphics and caching
frequently-accessed websites, it’s promising that Netscape
Accelerated Internet Service ($19 per month with the first month free)
offers performance up to 19 times as fast as standard dial-up, with
unlimited connection times.
This offers much promise to rural users and cottage country holidayers,
who are often poorly served by broadband services (including Rogers
The company promises local coverage in hundreds of communities across
Canada. Accelerated service can be accessed with a local phone call in
most Canadian locations, though it’s not available as a local
call outside of Canada. Note that the compression used will effectively
speed up access of web page text and graphics and e-mail, but
won’t have any noticeable effect on music or video files. It also
doesn’t speed up secure pages (such as banking and many other
e-commerce web pages) or encrypted data such as business virtual
private networks. File downloads are similarly slow.
While Rogers Portable Internet requires a special piece of hardware
with no extra software, Netscape Accelerated Internet Service is all
software-based (at least if you’ve got a standard dial-up modem),
with software for Windows and Mac. Despite the Netscape brand-name,
it’s usable with any web browser. (AOL purchased Netscape in
Depending on where you go and what you need to do online, one or the
other of these services may keep you connected on the go.