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ISSUE 558: ALAN ZISMAN- July 4 2000

Wireless message systems simplify modern life

If you want to get in touch with me, you could try my home phone number or my work number. (Which one? There's the receptionist at the office, the direct line, my voice mail, and others for various jobs I do.)
Or you could try one of several fax
numbers. Or a half-dozen or so e-mail accounts, not counting the ones that are no longer operational.

And I don't even have a pager or a cell phone.

I suspect that most of you have an equally tangled web of connections. And, like me, you probably spend a fair part of your day just checking and following up on messages.

So I suppose it shouldn't be much of a surprise that services are springing up, promising -- for a price -- to make it easier to stay on top of our messages. Here are two very different options that I've tried out recently.

PageNet (www.pagenet.ca) is a wireless messaging provider, claiming more than 9 million subscribers in the U.S. (275,000 in Can-
ada). Recently, the company has begun to offer a number of services combining e-mail with the more traditional paging. I spent a couple of weeks with a complimentary account for their high-end unit, a Motorola PageWriter 2000.

Under the hood, this little clam-shell is an actual 486 computer, complete with 4.5 MB of RAM. It would have been a powerful desktop machine in, say, 1993. Like the popular palm-sized computers, it's got a to-do list and address book, and can be synced to your desktop computer. It seemingly runs forever on its batteries, recharging itself when it sits in its cradle. Unlike the palm-top units, it comes with a mini-QWERTY keyboard and wirelessly receives and sends e-mail. E-mails can be sent directly to another PageNet customer's text pager. And if you have access to an Internet fax service, you can send messages direct to a recipient's fax machine. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly and smoothly messages were transmitted.

It was a simple matter to set up my main e-mail account to automatically forward copies of my mail to the PageWriter's e-mail address. As a re-
sult, it buzzed and vibrated throughout the day as my e-mail followed me throughout the Lower Mainland. Or, to be exact, the first 500 characters of my messages followed me. I could check messages while stopped at a red light, though I didn't dare try to type a response while driving.

Pricing varies with the hardware unit rented and with the number of messages. The top of the line PageWriter costs $59.95 a month with 200 messages or $99.95 for 500 messages. Additional messages are $0.20 each.

More affordable are keyboard-less AccessLink II from Vancouver's Glenayre, starting at $29.95 a month and Motorola's PF1500, for as little
as $25.95 a month. At the low-end you only get the first four lines of your message, and are limited to a preprogrammed reply.

While PageNet is building Internet connectivity into their existing paging network, Toronto/Bahama-based Conexys (www.
conexys.com
) offers one-stop connectivity through its Web site. Signing on for a $29-per-month iCommand account gets you a local (Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal) phone number that can be used to receive voice messages and fax, and that becomes the basis for yet another e-mail address.

All these messages, regardless of data-type, can be accessed from the Conexys Web page. Besides letting users read and reply to e-mail, faxes can be viewed in the bottom pane. Voicemail messages are stored as RealAudio files and can be played, as-
suming you have the free RealPlayer installed.

Unlike PageNet's service, I couldn't check my iCommand messages while driving, which is probably a good thing. I could, however, use it to access e-mail, voicemail and faxes from any computer connected to the Web, anywhere in the world, potentially a useful service to anyone who spends a lot of time out of the office. *

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