We've mentioned a few different types of hardware devices that you can use to access the Internet or email wirelessly . The varieties range widely; your choice should be made based on your personal situation.
For example, if you're constantly traveling for business within a specific region and use your laptop regularly during those travels , wireless connectivity for your laptop might be wise. If you don't need to have the whole laptop with you all the time but really need email availability and ease, a Web-enabled cell phone or wireless PDA might work for you.
Read through the following descriptions to help you decide what might be best for you.
Wireless for Your Laptop
Lots of people who know only a little about wireless Internet might be surprised to find that wireless is the full-time connection choice for many people. That is, there are a lot of people who don't have a traditional "wired" connection at all; the only connection they use is wireless.
That's right, wireless technology is available for both laptops and desktop computers. It's not available all over the country yet, but like cellular phone service, it's only a matter of time. Like any other Internet service, you need the right kind of modem and a service plan. In this case, you'll need a wireless modem. For the desktop, the modem is external, with an antenna and a line that plugs into a special PC card. For a laptop, the modem either mounts to the back of the screen or plugs directly into a PC card slot in the side.
One company that provides this service is called Ricochet (www.ricochet.com ; see Figure 16.2).
Figure 16.2. Wireless access for your regular computer is available through companies like Ricochet.
This type of service is great for the mobile professional. Individual packages start at around $80/month, and corporate discounts are typically available on multiple accounts. It allows your sales staff, for example, to keep in contact with the service department while on the road without ever having to plug in to a network connection or phone outlet.
This is a radio-frequency-based transmission system. Depending on the provider you use, the service might have antennas mounted on local water towers or other tall structures, such as buildings or radio towers. Some providers rely on a line-of-sight method of transmission ”that is, your antenna must be able to "see" the antenna it communicates with. Others use a broader transmission method more similar to those used by radio stations .
Regardless, you pay for the convenience of being mobile; there are typically much larger up-front and ongoing costs associated with this type of account than with a traditional dial-up plan.
Internet/Email into Your Cell Phone or Pager
Although it's only been around for a few years , this is actually one of the "oldest" of the wireless technologies. Cell phones and pagers have long been able to receive text messages, scores from stadiums around the country, stock quotes, and so on. It's been a pretty one-way service, however, and it's been costly.
Now, cell phones and pagers can receive longer messages than before, and you can even use them to respond, to a degree. It's a little clumsy, of course, to use a cell phone to type a message ”to get an "o" for example, you press the "6" button three times. But it works.
Many cell phone service providers allow you to use them for email if you want. Sometimes this carries a per-message fee, sometimes a flat monthly fee, and sometimes it's included free in a package deal. The way it works is this: To send you an email, the sender uses your phone number (including area code) as the name , followed by "@" and the domain of the service provider. An example of this might be email@example.com .
This is useful as an email forwarding tool. For example, if your ISP allows your email to be forwarded to another account for free, have them forwarded to your cell phone number (if that's free, too). Then, when you're on the road, you can check your emails. And they'll still be waiting for you on your regular computer, too.
Now, you can get the Web, or at least some of it, on your cell phone, too. The type of service varies greatly. Some providers create their own content (which they get from Web partners ) and have it all ready for you at your fingertips when you want it. This can include stock quotes, news headlines, scores, weather, flight data, and so on (see Figure 16.3). Others use a "web clipping" feature that allows you to view scaled-down sites from other providers.
Figure 16.3. Verizon Wireless offers a service that pushes info into your cell phone from the Web.
Newer Web frameworks allow sites to sense the type of device that is accessing it by detecting the type of browser being used. This allows the server to deliver the type of content that best suits that browser, and thus the device. In other words, down the road a bit you're likely to find more sites that "know" you are using a cell phone, and thus display the right kind of pages for you.
No industry standard has been developed for a cell phone “based browser, making it difficult for developers to accommodate them all. As the industry evolves, however, this technology will become more widespread.
These are the fellas that force you to choose between synchronized and real-time Internet connectivity. There are lots of choices here, but they fall into two main categories: those that use the Palm operating system, and those that use Pocket PC technology, which is a Microsoft product.
On the Palm side, there are the Palm organizers themselves , some of which have built-in antennas for wireless access. Those that don't can add a wireless modem so you can access the Web and email. The primary competitor is the Handspring line of PDAs (see Figure 16.4).
Figure 16.4. Handspring produces PDAs and modems that allow wireless access.
On the Pocket PC side, there are several competitors for the hardware dollar. These include Compaq's iPaq line (see Figure 16.5) of handheld computers and Hewlett-Packard's Jornada.
Figure 16.5. Compaq produces a line of handheld computers through which you can access the Web wirelessly.
These are probably the most popular way to access the Internet wirelessly (be it real time or synched). They are big enough to allow you to compose an email without too much difficulty, yet small enough to be truly portable.
Service packages for wireless connections for these types of devices vary widely and depend on what features you expect to get (email, Web, or both). These offer a great middle ground between a cell phone, which is very limited in size and capabilities, and a laptop, which is bulky.
Wireless Email Devices
Wireless email devices fall somewhere between a PDA and a pager. A little like a pager on steroids, maybe.
The Blackberry models from RIM (see Figure 16.6) offer a small screen like a PDA, but with a tiny, built-in keyboard for composing messages. These are widely used in business (in part because of aggressive pricing for multiple-unit purchases). They allow you to stay connected to your email wherever you may be.
Figure 16.6. The Blackberry email unit includes a built-in, tiny keyboard.
In addition to sending and receiving email, you can keep an address book and calendar, use the built-in calculator, take notes, keep a task list, and more, all similar to what you can do on the Palm or Pocket PC. Two different models (the other is closer to pager-sized) are available.
Ask any techie and he'll tell you: The future of wireless communication, and perhaps the Web in general, is in your cell phone. The cell phone has become such a staple of everyone's life ”not just business people ”that it only seems natural that its ability to communicate wirelessly would be used to the advantage of Web developers.
Although the cell phone is a staple, the PDA is the hottest form of technology. For business, for students ”for anyone , really ”PDAs are selling faster than any other device. It seemed only natural to try to combine the two technologies together in some way.
There are two ways to do this: Take the PDA and add a phone to it, or take a phone and add a PDA to it. Great news: They both work.
Kyocera (see Figure 16.7), among other cell phone manufacturers, is now building "smart phones" that include an internal screen and the Palm-based software. This eliminates the need to carry both types of devices, but the result is a somewhat clunky piece of machinery ”all of the advances in size reduction over the years are lost.
Figure 16.7. Kyocera and other phone makers are now building phones with built-in PDAs.
Still, it's better than carrying both pieces. The other obstacle is cost; these units are still in the $400 “$500 range.
The other way involves adding a phone to your PDA. Handspring offers a product called the VisorPhone (see Figure 16.8) that allows you to literally insert a phone module into the PDA's expansion slot, and it allows the PDA to act as a phone. This option will also run $400 “$500 by the time you add in the cost of the phone module.
Figure 16.8. VisorPhone turns your Handspring PDA into a cell phone.
People might think you're a little strange if they see you talking into your PDA, but they'll get over it.