Anywhere Internet

by Nate Heaseley for Digital Living Today

It’s easy to forget that — amongst all of the Internet gold rush fever and wall-to-wall dot-com TV commercials — the Internet is still in its toddler phase. The next big step we’re taking is a literal one – away from the desktop (and laptop) and back into the mobility of our lives – and not a moment too soon. I don’t know about you, but my butt hurts!

With the recent development of wireless access to the Web, email and e-commerce, a “computer” is no longer even needed. Today, you’re just as likely to use a digital cell phone, pager, PDA or even a wristwatch, to connect to the Net. Digital phones that include WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) Web browsers have started hitting the shores of the US in phones like the Samsung SCH3500 and the NeoPoint (with sports a welcome larger-than-others screen). Look for new Web-ready Nokia and Motorola phones soon, including the Matrix-inspired Nokia 7100, or the silvery objet de tech, Motorola’s Timeport (likely to be the gadget fetish object of the summer). As yet unreleased, the Ericcsson R380 big-screen phone (similar to the headline-grabbing Nokia Communicator 9100) will no doubt re-ignite the debate over how much computing you really want on a mobile phone (and how much you’d rather leave on your desktop).

While a Web phone will let you obsessively check your stocks, read your daily email avalanche, and even order a pint of Ben & Jerry’s from an online grocery store, these phones are just not adequate for hotdog surfing.

Handhelds to the rescue! The Novatel Minstrel wireless modem for the Palm V, available from OmniSky, brings you unlimited access to the Web for less than $50/month. The Minstrel, also available for the Palm III, allows surfing with a full browser or a more content-limited WAP-compatible browser.

If you have a Windows CE handheld or want to access the wireless Web on your laptop, Novatel also offers a full-size PC Card wireless modem called the Merlin that fits into any laptop or Windows CE machine with a full-size PC Card slot. They also have a serial port model that will work with Win95-00, WinCE, and the Palm OS, and drivers are in the works for other operating systems.

Full Web access is available through many cell phones’ internal modems, including the Ericsson I888 and Kyocera’s Thin Phone. Be warned however – many cell phone modems use Cellular Data Protocol (CDP), and are limited to 19.2 kbps. At that speed, downloading anything but the basics becomes a real yawnfest. And since it’s up to your wireless provider to determine your charges, you might as well hand them the keys to your credit card account.

The new Sprint commercials aside (which show desk jockeys emerging into the light of a wireless world like just-released P.O.W.’s), wireless access still has a lot of growing up to do. It’s slow, the screens are tiny, most of the Web is not wireless-ready yet, and the technology is expensive. That said, there is something truly liberating about being able to be mobile and connected. Things may be awkward for awhile, but hey, whoever said that growing up was going to be a cakewalk?

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