ISSUE 575: Alan Zisman- Oct 31 2000
The high-tech office
Connecting to the Web
with a notebook and a cell phone is the best wireless bet
Recent columns have looked at ways to keep
connected everywhere. We've tried wireless access for Palm and Visor
handheld computers: nice in theory, but not yet available in Canada,
And we've accessed the Internet on a cell phone, only
to find both the tiny screen and tiny keypad awkward to use. And on
both the handheld computer and cell phone, the Web clipping needed to
format Web pages to fit the small screens limited the information
But many of us already have nearly all the hardware we
need to connect to the Internet anytime, anywhere, and without the Web
Take a garden-variety notebook computer, add a
common-place cell phone, find some way to connect the two and you've
got a low-tech solution to the high-tech dilemma of how to stay online
away from home or office.
There's nothing new about this. People have been
connecting their notebook computers and cell phones for years. But
previously, you needed a special, cell phone-ready PC-card modem, which
in turn could only be connected to a limited number of cell phone
models with a hard-to-find cable.
And the resulting connections, at 9,600 bits per
second were not exactly at lightning speed.
Newer digital phones simplify the process somewhat.
Because they can deal with digital data, no special modem is needed. In
fact, no modem is needed at all. Instead, your digital phone can be the
modem, connecting directly to your computer's serial port. (Note that
phrase: serial port. That means that serial-port challenged newer Apple
Macintosh iBooks and PowerBooks need not apply. Sorry, Mac fans).
Of course, this being the computer industry, it can't
be quite that simple. To connect a Clearnet Mike Motorola
i1000 Plus phone to my notebook, I still needed a special cable and
software CD, sold by Clearnet as the Mike Wireless Modem Kit (about
$100). The software installs drivers to let the computer see the
digital phone as an external fax modem. (Besides the model to connect
to PC serial ports, Clearnet also has a Palm-capable cable kit which,
however, could not be used to connect to the different connector of my
I couldn't get it to work at all under Windows 2000,
but installation under Windows 98 was straightforward. Once the phone
was installed, using it was simple. Turn the phone on, open standard
dial-up-networking software and connect to my normal Internet service
provider (paying, of course, both cell phone and Internet connection
Once connected, I could use my Internet service as
usual: e-mail, Web browsing and on and on. Unlike the Web clipping
services, it was full access, not scaled down content from a limited
number of pages.
Operating as a fax modem, I could send faxes directly
from the notebook anywhere. Too good to be true? There's still a catch.
Speed is still rated at a meager 9,600 bps. Nowhere near the 56,000 bps
promised (though never delivered) by wired landline modems, to say
nothing of the much higher speeds of broadband cable and ADSL
While Web pages took a while to fully appear, this
true digital 9,600 bps felt faster and more stable than the analogue
version I remember from a few years ago. And Clearnet promises it will
Over the next few months, the company expects to
introduce packet data service to its Mike network, more than doubling
connections to 20,000 bps both for "tethered" services, where the phone
is connected to a notebook or handheld computer, and for "untethered"
online services, direct to the phones. Existing phones will
automatically upgrade their software to make use of the faster speeds.
Further down the road is the promise of so-called 3G,
the third generation wireless services. The company envisions mobile
connection speeds up to 384 kilobits per second, and broadband two
megabits per second when stationary. 3G services, requiring massive
network upgrades and government approval, are expected for 2003-'04. *