Table of Contents




Technology Today

November 2000

Travels and Email

Staying connected while on the road has always been foremost in my thinking when I have been traveling (besides the scenery, food, late hours, museums, shops, and the like). So this year, when I took a trip to China, I had a lot to think about as to what to carry and how to stay connected. The laptop was certainly out of the question. I was going to have enough trouble staying under the 20 Kilogram limit as it was and I really didn’t like the idea of taking another 5K (10 pounds) of stuff with me. The other problem of carrying a notebook computer, besides wondering if the power supply will get fried with the strange current and electricity, was the phone connections. I have discovered that in some foreign lands, the connection from the wall to the telephone (and hence to my computer) have been quite different to say the least. In fact, some places in the world have never seen an RJ45 jack. Now granted, you can stop by your friendly travel store or www.mobileplanet.com, one of my favorites, and find all sorts of connection devices. The problem is that many times, a dial tone is not a dial tone. And in my case, when I start to hear someone speaking in Chinese on the other end, not only do you have to wait to see if it is Mandarin, Cantonese or some other dialect, just like in this country, they often speak so fast you have missed already what they were saying. And, did I mention that the cost of overseas calls from China can be quite pricey! 

An aside, if you are traveling overseas and it really doesn’t matter which direction you are going in, the cheapest way to call home is to use a phone card. Now phone cards that you find overseas are quite different than what we have here. Most of the phone cards we see here in the states are the long distance variety or to give you extra minutes on your cellular phones. And the way they work is you dial an 800 number to connect, dial the number you want to call, then dial the calling card or phone card number and the system from who ever you use for the calling card keeps track of your minutes available and time. This means you will usually dial an average of 30 or so numbers to make the call. Overseas, people tend to make far more calls to other countries and so what they buy is a phone card that has a chip in it to keep track of the minutes. You use a telephone that uses the cards and as soon as you insert the card, it tells you how much money is left (fortunately in English for nearly every card I have used), and you simply dial away. In China, I would dial the country code 001, the area code 317, and my home number for a total of 13 digits. While I am on the call, I can see the amount of money in the card decrease, and unfortunately, for an overseas call to the USA, decrease rather quickly to the tune of around $2 per minute. What you hear in the USA about making phone calls from hotel rooms is double overseas. It can be very expensive and if you have to plug in a computer to try it a half dozen times before you connect to what ever service you are trying to connect to, it can get very expensive. One hotel I was at charged $5 just to make the phone call, $3 per minute after that, plus a 15% or more “service charge” on the total bill. Needless to say, I never make calls from hotel rooms when traveling and the times that I do take my computer on a trip with me here in the USA, the first thing I do is to check with the hotel as to the rates for local or 800 calls. In the states it is much easier because usually the local call might cost you $1 or so. In the Far East, it is not uncommon to not only pay for a local connection call, but to also pay by the minute. And speaking of who to call, if you still are thinking of taking your computer to connect with while on the road overseas, you first might look into who you are going to call there. Does your Internet service have an overseas connection or are you going to have to call long distance to the states? And forget about the 800 numbers, they only work in the United States and sometimes in Canada. 

One lady in our group did bring her laptop with her and the only place she was able to use it was in Vancouver to connect for her emails. Other than that, they had a good paperweight in the suitcase. Part of that problem is the lack of local access numbers for the Internet provider. AOL does a very good job and has numbers in some pretty amazing places but watch out for the local surcharges. Also, you had better figure out what cities you will be in and check the local access numbers before you leave.

So, what I did and I recommend it is to find the Internet cafes and business offices of hotels. It seems that many of the major hotels now have business offices to send faxes and the like and they are starting to include a computer or two for Internet access and emails. And it works great. Mostly. First of all, costs were quite reasonable for the entire trip ranging from a low of $6 per hour in Tibet to $25 in a very high class hotel in Beijing. Access speeds ranged from 28.8 all the way to high speed DSL service in Hong Kong. 

There are a couple of things you need to know and do before using these centers though. First is to find out whether you have an Internet based email provider. My old Internet Indiana was very typical of most local internet providers in that they give you a POP3 mail setup to use with an email program like Eudora, Outlook, and the like. What that means is that I dial into Internet Indiana, fire up my email program, and tell it to send and receive mail, which it downloads to my email program. When you are traveling on the road, this will not work because when you connect to the Internet, you are connecting to whatever service is provided for you by the business center or Internet café. So what you need to use is an internet based email system like Hot Mail, Briefcase, USA Net, Yahoo mail, and the like. What they all have in common is that to access your mail, you simply fire up a browser like Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer and go to www.hotmail.com or whatever www mail program you are using.  Then it doesn’t matter at all where you are coming in from. And it works great. Probably the only thing I would recommend here is that you look for the box to check when entering your name and password to increase security and expire all pages so that the next person that sits down at the computer cannot simply hit the back button to see what you are writing and to who.

America Online (AOL) is a different type of animal but it can work just as well. When you get the browser in front of you, simply go to www.aol.com and you can enter in as either a “guest” or put in your own screen name and password. You will then have access to your mail and address book.

Finally, to get back to my old Internet Indiana, now Skyenet, ISP (Internet Service Provider), they and many others have web based email available to you if you are traveling. Again, when you get the browser, I would go to www.in.net, bring up the home page, and see a link to web based email so I can check my email again while on the road. 

Something else to think about when doing email on the road is that if you are using a web based email already, you have your address book online. If you find that you can’t get to your email when traveling, probably you should print off the address listing to take with you. Also, signing up for email from places like USA.net, hotmail, Yahoo and the like can be quick and easy. In fact, I mention USA.net because when I am finished traveling, I simply tell it to forward any mail it gets back to my home email provider. Just be sure that when you hit the road, to stop the forwarding of email otherwise you won’t see any at all.  Another thing to consider is that overseas phone lines can be quite primitive at times and so you may get disconnected a lot, I certainly did. If you are sending very long messages, you might want to make a copy to the clipboard or notepad just incase it does not go through. Another problem I ran into was power outages, one time, just after I hit send, the entire center goes black.

These are things to think about when you are contemplating taking your computer with you so you can stay in touch and in fact, I have found that it works very well with out my laptop with me and so on major trips, I just leave the laptop home. Happy traveling.


Short Takes

So have you gone wireless yet? It certainly seems that half the world has. I could not believe how many people in China are connected to the cellular/digital world. It gets confusing and from what I am seeing for us here in Indianapolis, it will only get worse as it gets better. While the first generation of portable phones was primarily cellular types, you were either in or out of service and paying for every minute at a very high rate. It has been 10 years since I first started to haul around a bag phone and my, has it all changed. The problem with the changes is that as I have seen a global market for these phones, we in Indiana are just getting into what is available. Sprint PCS first lured me in with their CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology because you could actually hear who you were talking to like they were next door. When technology works it is wonderful. The problem is that it is not compatible with TDMA (the T standing for Time which is from AT&T) or GSM, (Global System for Mobile communications) the most widely used digital system in Europe, which is based on TDMA. And naturally, none of the three systems can be used by the same phones. It used to be that when you buy a phone for your home or office, it stays with you until you die, not so with digital phones as I am working on my sixth and discovered that it has none of the neat features of the internet and web that I expected to use them for. Another story, another phone.

What we are going to see soon is a new stage in this technology that will muddy the waters even more. CDMA 2000 is an upgrade to CDMA (both patented by Qualcomm if you think this is leading somewhere). What CDMA 2000 does is to give you data rates up to 307Kbps but is still not compatible with anything else. AT&T will be coming out with something called GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) that will enhance TDMA and GSM data services up to about 115Kbps. But these are only the stepping stones to what they call the 3rd Generation of wireless services. Qualcomm will be coming out with their CDMA 2000 2X to provide data services as fast as 2Mbps. Because Qualcomm has such a large lead in the North American market, look for this to do well with players like Sprint, Verizon, and Bell Mobility. However, W-CDMA (Wideband CDMA) is the competitor coming out of Europe as a standard for upgrading TDMA and GSM. Since this technology has the blessing of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) the chief standards maker for the rest of the world, look for it to become the main standard worldwide except for the USA. And finally, AT&T, not to be outdone, will be pushing their own 3rd generation technology called EDGE, basically Enhanced TDMA, to deliver speeds up to 2Mbps. Predictions are that EDGE will pretty well stick with AT&T since Qualcomm has a huge market already in the USA and W-CDMA will become the standard for the rest of the world. How much of an inroad into the United States will the W-CDMA make we will just have to wait and see but certainly, look for tons more features on your new digital phone.

What does this mean to all of us, to be honest, not much unless you might be traveling overseas and want to use your digital phone there?  If you are changing phones as quickly as I am, it might not matter much what standard we use since we are not looking for a rollout of these technologies until the year 2003. But three years can go quickly.

Robert Sanborn


Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and the Program Chairman for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him through the net at sansoft@in.net

Nov. 2000


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