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ISSUE 512: The high tech office- Aug 17 1999


Totally wireless PC access is fast becoming a reality

Last week, we saw that there was a wide range of options (and prices) available for portable computing. This week, we'll push the envelope of "taking it with you" one step further.

More and more, there are ways to access your data, your e-mail and the Web while you're on the go -- and the ultimate goal is to be able to do it wirelessly.

One way is to simply connect your notebook's modem to your
cell phone and dial away. Of course, this assumes that your notebook's modem is cell phone enabled (not all are) and that your cell phone has an appropriate connection (not all do). Then, one cable later, you're in business. Of course, don't expect that your 56kb modem will actually be able to send and receive data at that speed over your cell. Like other wireless options, it'll work at a sedate 14 kbs
or less. E-mail may be usable and you can im-
prove things by turning off graphics in your Web browser.

Burnaby's Infowave Soft-
ware Inc.
) has been a leader in developing wireless solutions. The company's new-
est product, InfoWave for Exchange, works by keeping users
in touch with messages on a corporate Microsoft Exchange message server.

Infowave's software works to-
gether with a wireless PC Card modem from Waterloo, Ontario's Research in Motion (www.rim.
). Versions are available for PC notebooks and Windows CE handhelds. Infowave is also readying Infowave for the Net service, which allows users to connect to corporate intranets. *

Users of the popular Palm handhelds have been waiting, seemingly forever, for the promised Palm VII, a model that adds an antenna and wireless connections to the unit. (Add-ons provide wireless capabilities to older Palm models.) Currently, the Palm VII has been made available, but only in the New York metropolitan area. There, it can be connected to the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless Network, for a minimum US$10 monthly fee. It can be used to send and receive e-mail messages and access some Internet content -- not the whole Web, but only what the company refers to as "Web

Under the service, you send an inquiry to a listed content provider such as ABC News, ESPN or The Weather Channel and eventually receive information back. Early re-
ports are that the fee structure can become expensive pretty quickly.

But you may not need to tote around a notebook computer or even a tiny handheld to keep up with your e-mail on the go. More and more, two-way alphanumeric pagers are offering some sort of limited e-mail capability, typically requiring a dedicated e-mail address and only displaying short messages.

Research in Motion sells the RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950 for about $600 plus monthly fees (less with a 12- or 24-month contract), which can be used with a Cantel service. It weighs in at about five ounces and can store 12,000 messages or 2,000 contacts. Along with traditional paging, it allows you to receive and send e-mail typed in on its mini-QWERTY keyboard.

If your recipient doesn't have e-mail, it can turn your text into speech for voice connections or into a fax document. The standard AA battery should be good for a couple of weeks of use.

RIM's 950 is powered by a 386 processor -- just like the real computers of a couple of years ago. Messages can be read fairly easily on its eight-line screen, while the message length limit of 16,000 characters (about 2,700 words) should be more than enough for most. (This column is around 800 words, for example.)*

Apple's just-announced iBook notebook promises optional wireless capabilities and some published reports have made it look like you can use it to access the Internet on the go.

But sorry, folks, that's not how it works. The iBook does include built-in antennae and these can be used, along with an optional $150 AirPort card, to connect to a network wirelessly. But the network has to include a $450 AirPort base station that's wired into the network (or connected to a modem) and the range of the base station is about 150 feet -- so iBook users can connect wirelessly to the Internet, as long as they stay within that range of home base, not quite making it as road warriors. Backyard warriors, perhaps.

Still, the iBook's wireless capabilities are impressive. Apple and partner Lucent Technologies have boosted the performance of wireless networking, while dropping the price.

A different use for the cell phone network recently de-
buted in town. Montreal's Rankin Technologies, along with BC Tel Mobility, an-
nounced availability of Boom-
erang, a homing device that can be activated to locate stolen property anywhere in North America. The company claims it helped locate $1.8 million
in stolen vehicles in May 1999 alone ( *

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