Sunday, June 18, 2006

Travel Technology Options

One of the questions that comes up most frequently is what type of internet connectivity should I have for our trip? So, here is a quick review of the basic ways to access the internet in a mobile connection (not at a fixed land base (ie DSL or cable TV internet)

· Dial-up - slow, but can access from any telephone line - just plug in and dial. Some carriers provide lots of local dial up numbers (AT&T has over 400!) and most also provide some 800 service for a fee. This is good to have as a back-up service when you can't access anything else. AT&T provides such a service for $5.95 a month + $.99 an hour when you need to use it. I'm sure others have similar services.

· Cellular Modem - slow, but using an adaptor kit of some type (called a modem kit) you can access any place you have cell coverage. Unless a particular company has put restrictions on it, you can access the internet from ANY cell company’s service, regardless of who your carrier is. You have a physical connection from your cell phone to your PC.

· Cellular Data Service - this has no connection to your cellular phone or cellular phone carrier. You may have the same carrier for both, but it is not necessary. Faster than the above options, you have a card in your PC that accesses the internet directly. You don't even have to HAVE cell service to have this. Totally separate. This service costs about $40-60 a month. Unlimited service. No minutes to worry about. The coverage area for the carrier who provides the card/service to you has no bearing on where you can connect. You can connect ANYPLACE you can get a cell signal -- regardless of carrier who is providing the signal. Now, you may get varying speeds depending upon the carrier, but cellular signal + data internet service card = connection. Even driving along.

· Wi-fi Service The newest and the best value. Good speed, easy to use and becoming very easy to find. Must have a wi-fi card in your PC - virtually all new PC's have them, and many older ones can be retrofitted. Costs for service range from "free" (the location is paying for it - like Starbucks, libraries, etc.) to $30-40 a month, depending upon the situation. You can buy service for a few dollars for a day (like in an airport) to subscription services like through SBC -- but usually restricted to that company’s Hot spots.

· Satellite - Expensive to buy and to have service. Fast, but must be able to get your satellite link-up (problem in trees, etc.) but really great service. There are a couple of major providers. I've never used this, so don't know as much about it. One of our subscribers, Daniel Bray, is an expert. Can only use it when satellite is up - so can't be used driving down the highway. Cellular data service can be used driving along (please, don't try to drive and use! -- I've seen that, believe it or not! -- in LA, where else!)


Anonymous said...

I have had T Mobile dial up data service (with a card in the lap top) for several years. It is slow but wonderful. Access almost everywhere. Few dead spots.
Just got new lap top and am going to try the wifi.

Carol White - The Road Trip Dreamer said...

Hi Rich -

That is why I said "Unless a particular company has put restrictions on it" -- because, as you state, not every company has reciprocol arrangements. Don't confuse a "data-capable" cell phone where you can get the internet directly on your screen (which is what I think you are talking about) with a cellular modem that ATTACHES between your cell phone and your PC and displays on your PC. Much more "low tech", but something that is widely used by travelers.

Thanks for your comments.