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    Two new ways to stay connected on the go

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver

    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 expensive connection.

    Recently, though, two more options have become available.

    Rogers is 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.

    Netscape/America Online 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 Portable Internet).

    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 1998.)

    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.

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