The Road Wirer
the Gap between Hype and Reality
by Mark Sedenquist
At some point in the not-so-distant past, September 1st was to have been the official launch date for the voice and data satellite services provided by Globalstar, the consortium of companies that was supposed to deliver communication services, functionally superior to current providers like Iridium. Launching a satellite communication system seems to be analogous to being on road trip: a blown tire or the loss of several key satellites can cause some delays in getting to where you thought you were going. Now the "official spin" is that Globalstar will be commencing a phase-in of communication services "sometime" in autumn. This is one dashboard pioneer that hopes Globalstar has a smoother ride than that enjoyed to date by Iridium.
Ricochet's fixed wireless system (**Update 11/02: The original Ricochet system developed by Metricom has been reborn. For more info, click here.) is making some progress along the continuum of being able to provide REAL wireless connectivity for working Dashboarders. Earlier this summer, they completed a beta test using 250 customers in the San Francisco Bay area. Using a new generation modem, wireless speeds in excess of 128Kbps were obtained. Current Ricochet modems can deliver consistent wireless speeds in the range of 30Kbps. The Ricochet system access costs about $300 per year and can be used in the San Francisco Bay area and portions of Seattle, Washington, DC, New York City and certain metropolitan airports. Current news is that the company intends to extend the service to a total of 46 cities by the end of 2000 and be able to deliver that near-mystical speed of 128Kbps to "some of them." Although the Ricochet system is much faster than the analog cellular 9.6Kbps we routinely achieve in the Phoenix One, the slower cellular method does work in places like the middle of a Redwood forest or Carlock, Illinois...
Recently the Road Wirer has received a good deal of e-mail about the "Pocket Mail" products developed by Pocket Science that I mentioned in the February 1 dispatch. Randy Kerr is a professional photographer and adventurer who spends even more time exploring this world than RoadTrip America. His professional commitments make it essential that he remain as connected as possible and we have an ongoing dialogue about the gap between what is REAL and the level of commercial hype that exists for dashboarders who are attempting on a daily basis to "connect to the Internet anytime, any where and at a reasonable cost." Randy, (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been using the Pocket Mail device as an interim Dashboarding tool until the REAL devices come online. The following excerpt is taken from an e-mail message sent on 9/3/99.
. . . Well I've actually found a cost-effective solution that tides me over between normal Internet hookups: PocketMail.. I knew of it earlier but discounted it as a toy - but after reading the testimonies of its owners, I thought I'd give it a try. Now after having used it for a couple of weeks, I've found it really fills the gap I needed.
...What it is: 1. A Sharp "organizer" type device (cheap: $90-$150 typically) which has a built-in acoustic coupler on its backside. You can pick one up at Office Depot, OfficeMax, those sorts of places. Registering your unit and establishing service can be easily done anytime at www.pocketmail.com.
2. Send/receive email through using existing POP3 (or AOL) account(s) from virtually any phone in the world: payphone, analog cellular phone, overseas phone, ... over a slow but so far very reliable connection. Because the baud rate is probably round 2400-4800, the unit employs message abbreviation measures to lessen download times.
3. It downloads "copies" of your email so your messages in your normal account remain undisturbed for when you get to a faster Internet connection for fuller replies, opening any attachments, etc.
4. Also holds PIM stuff (schedule, address book, memos, alarms/reminders...) which can sync to your PC via a $50 add-on tool www.pocketlynx.com.
5. Access is via a toll free 800 number, no limits on number of calls or data transfer, fixed monthly rate $9.95.
What it isn't: 1. NOT a web surfing device (although you'd be surprised how much "mailbots" can provide these days: daily news, weather, stocks, UPS tracking, ...)
2. NOT a laptop or even WinCE level of device for authoring large amounts of content. This device is for quick responses.
How we use it: On our typical trips, we're in the backwoods for several days at a time. When we return to the nearest town, we are rarely in cellular range but we can always find a payphone or someone willing to let us make a tollfree call. It allows us to "peek" at both our POP3 accounts to make sure nothing important needs our attention, and if there is something, we can get a quick answer back and if needed follow up once we make it to a better connection. Probably the mode you operate in with your cell-9600 connection anyway. Never being far away from tending to important email is worth an additional $10/month to us. In addition, we've scheduled mailbots (www.infobeat.com) to mail us daily news, stocks, and weather - 80% of all we generally use the web for when we're traveling.
We're heading up to British Columbia for flyfishing in the RoadTrek - but will never be too far from a payphone!...
If you would like another testimonial or additional information, Paula Harmer (email@example.com) is a frequent RoadWirer correspondent, and she is offering some remarkable promotional offers. 110% of our available funds have been directed to the promotional tour for Megan's Roads From the Ashes book tour or we would have purchased one of these devices for our use too.
Next week, (yes, I did write "next week," the Road Wirer has been silent a bit too long), I will share the real story on the "birth" of the PING as told by Dr. Ray Tracy, fellow Dashboarding pioneer.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to hearing of YOUR Dashboarding success stories!
Pleasantville, New York