The Road Wirer
by Mark Sedenquist
This week marks the fifth Thanksgiving holiday that Megan, Marvin the Road Dog and I have enjoyed on-the-road. When we started this odyssey, we naively believed that true, two-way wireless communication devices would "soon" be available that would enable us to send Megan's articles to her office-bound editors anywhere in the country, (at a reasonable speed and cost). As most of our fellow dashboard trailblazers know, such equipment simply does not exist for mere mortals in this country, with limited exception in certain key urban areas. What I find interesting is that as public awareness of the desirability of such capability becomes the norm, we find that the traditional wired networks have stepped in to meet the needs and expectations of dashboarders.
We still have our three cellular transceivers and the famous "black box" that allows us to reach the Internet at the screaming rate of 9.6 Kbps and we do, on occasion, use this interface to FTP our files to our Web servers in California. However, it is much more likely these days that we uploaded our files by using the telephone services provided by Kinko's or the table phones at truck stops or still-too-rare-but-out-there the data ports on coin-operated pay telephones. Truck Stops of America, one of the national truck & travel plaza chains, has installed plug-ins in the truck parking areas that allow subscribers to the service to receive cable TV and telephone/Internet services direct to their tractor trailers. Because of the uneasy tension between professional commercial drivers and everyone else in regards to appropriate places to park at a truck stop, it is not clear yet whether we will be availing ourselves of this service, at least during peak periods of use. Also, many RV parks now provide "instant" phone service similar to that used by over-night business travelers at hotels.
If the Web is any predictor of "real life," there have been some very good signs that times may finally be a-changin.' In earlier Road Wirer columns I have written about some of the products of Sierra Wireless and their efforts to create the Wireless Alliance. Well, the Alliance has a new name and URL: www.wirelessready.org which is worth a bookmark and look.
Speaking of coverage, I receive a fair amount of e-mail requesting my suggestions for specific telephone packages for other dasboarders at work on the road. Since there is not a plan (yet) that addresses all of the problems associated with roaming and surcharges that are still an unavoidable part and parcel of the cellular system, I am usually not very helpful. The InPhonic Web site, however, can help you can find a company that will give you a free cell phone in your home area.
So, five years and some 140,000 miles later we find that the best way, (at least for now), to access the Web on a daily basis on-the-road is to use more traditional wired telephony systems. This is not to say that we have lost sight of the goal of unplugging and being truly wireless, but we are thankful that we can be out here and still in touch with you, however that might be accomplished.
November 22, 1999