VoIP and EVDO prove their worth on road trip
Recently I went with my son Jake and the fellow members of his team, the Phoenix soccer club, to the mainland to attend the USA Cup tournament in Minnesota. It was a great opportunity to meet youngsters and parents from around the world.
It was also a chance to test out my X-41 IBM laptop with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, a global positioning system (GPS) receiver, a Cisco VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone and EVDO, a wireless broadband technology. Although this was not a "working" vacation, I was on call, and also needed to stay in touch with my family back in Hawaii.
Nowadays there are several different telecommunications options. In recent years, cell phones have vastly improved their quality and reach. The hitch is that roaming rates tend to be very expensive. However, if you have broadband available, you have the option of making calls on VoIP, which is free, and avoiding the roaming rates. Sometimes you may even be in a situation where you have broadband but not cell coverage.
This was my case while staying at an RV park near Yellowstone. Since there was no cell coverage, I fired up my laptop and easily locked into the local Wi-Fi network. I had Skype, a free software download, which allows you to utilize VoIP. The next step was to plug in the Cisco phone (priced at $100). All I did was attach the phone's base station to a USB port on the IBM laptop. I hit the talk button on the phone and, voila, I had dial tone.
I called my wife back in Honolulu to let her know that the kids were fine--we talked almost 30 minutes. The quality wasn't as good as a call on a phone line or even a good cell connection. There was some latency (delay) and a few dropped words, but overall it worked well and the price was right. For a student or even a small business person, this arrangement is tough to beat.
However, there are not always WiFi hotspots on the road. That's where EVDO comes to your rescue. It's available locally via Sprint or Verizon Wireless and you can take it with you on the road so that wherever there's cell service, you've essentially got broadband connectivity.
At first you might think roaming Internet access is overkill, but I found it extremely useful. For example we found it helpful in planning our activities.
EVDO (which starts at around $60/month for existing Sprint customers) makes it easy to use a GPS receiver ($90 bundled with software) to find your way around. Specifically, we found the combination of GPS linked to our laptop and supported with Microsoft Streets and Maps, very advantageous in finding our way to and from the hotel.
GPS also worked its magic when our van got separated from the rest of the team and I was able to instruct our driver, Ema, where to go.
Finally there was Photoshow (available for about $30) which allowed us to upload our digital photos to a Web site that illustrated the events of the day. There were plenty of moms and dads back in Honolulu who checked the site on a daily basis to follow the games and their children's activities.
With all these telecommunications tools, you have every reason to stay in touch with friends and family if you're on the Mainland or elsewhere.
is general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org