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The wireless access dilemma
Posted on 2-Dec-2004 22:27 by M Freitas | Tags Filed under: Blog

The wireless access dilemma
Today I decided to count how many wireless devices connected to a mobile network we have around here on Geekzone. No joking, I was surprised, and I'm trying to reduce the number of items.

Before posting this entry I had a coffee with Darryl, the other Microsoft MVP Mobile Devices based here in Wellington (there are three of us in New Zealand). And over that coffee I actually changed lots of the ideas I had for this article.

Instead of trying to sort out which device I should keep, we ended up talking about the advantages of one mobile operator over another. If you donít know, we have here in New Zealand a duopoly: in one side Telecom New Zealand with its CDMA (1xRTT and EV-DO) based network, and on the other corner Vodafone New Zealand with its GSM/GPRS network (with UMTS sometime during 2005).

So, how many device I have here, and which ones are worth keeping and why?

First the list:

  • Vodafone Mobile Connect Card for my laptop (GPRS, PC Card, max 42Kbps)
  • i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition (GPRS, Bluetooth, max 42Kbps)
  • i-mate Smartphone2 (GPRS, Bluetooth, max 42Kbps)
  • Harrier Pocket PC Phone Edition (CDMA EV-DO, Bluetooth, max 1Mbps)
  • Woosh (WCDMA, USB, max 256Kbps).

    These are only the ones connected to a mobile network. I'll not include in this list the HP iPAQ h4150 (my main Pocket PC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) and the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) since they're wireless capable but not directly connected to a mobile network.

    Let's list the strength and weaknesses of each of these devices:

    I use the i-mate Smartphone2 because of the voice roaming capabilities, with a huge worldwide coverage of GSM network. It is the smaller of all and since it comes with Bluetooth I can use it to connect my Bluetooth enabled Tablet PC or my h4150 to the Internet via GPRS. The downside is the very low speed: around 42Kbps. Vodafone keeps saying that speed is not everything, but in some businesses it is.

    It does have GPRS roaming, but at NZ$30/MB (about US$20/MB) while overseas itís not usable unless for quick e-mail checks, downloading the subjects only. In reality itís the same as not having data roaming at all.

    I have to keep the i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition because it is mainly used for software testing purposes, and the SIM card I have on it is for data only.

    The Vodafone Mobile Connect Card can go. If I need to use GPRS Iím happy using Bluetooth instead of inserting the card on my Tablet PC.

    Woosh is worth keeping because of cost. Although only available in downtown Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, it provides a service with adequate speed for my uses when in town, with a good 1.2GB allowance every month. Also itís cheap costing only NZ$39.95/month (about US$28). If you donít know, Woosh is based on UMTS TDD standard, and in theory it would allow roaming, at least to other areas with the same technology, mainly in the US. Reality is that the service is too new so I wouldnít expect this to have a broad coverage overseas.

    The only problem with Woosh is the customer service. Believe it or not, I have been trying to setup the automatic payment of my bill for the last four months, despite of e-mails from their website, phone calls to their help desk and sending signed forms via mail.

    The Harrier Pocket PC (read our review) is based on Telecom New Zealandís new 3G (branded as T3G) network, a CDMA EV-DO service, with great speed (average of 500Kbps, peaks of 1Mbps, check the screenshot). The 3G network is available in the main centres, and fallback is to the CDMA 1xRTT network, which is a little faster than GPRS. It is not cheap though, with a 200MB allowance costing NZ$99/month (US$71).

    The Harrier can be used as a modem for a laptop via USB, but I rather not have to buy another cable (the cradle can be used but itís huge to carry around).

    Yes, the Harrier does support Bluetooth, but the current version is faulty. CDMA Bluetooth connections using the Harrier tend to disconnect every couple of minutes, and even ActiveSync synchronization is unreliable, with one or two soft resets needed to force it to establish a connection. According to an e-mail I have from Widcomm/Broadcom this is a known problem of this software, and it also happens with other Pocket PC Phone Edition models. Apparently HP have an updated version and will release it sometime in the future. Iím not sure Telecom New Zealand is planning any ROM updates for the Harrier, but if it is this should be the reason to deploy it: the current Bluetooth is useless and the users want Bluetooth on CDMA.

    Also there is the lack of CDMA data roaming. While Vodafone offers slow and expensive GPRS roaming, Telecom New Zealand does not offer at all. In my thoughts too expensive (Vodafone) or not at all (Telecom New Zealand) is the same: no data roaming.

    So, what have I decided is the best option in my case? Keep the i-mate Smartphone2 for voice calls and the quick e-mail checking, use Woosh while in Wellington or Auckland, and subscribe to T-Mobile HotSpot while overseas.

    Yes, thatís right. Last November I went to Seattle and while in transit in San Francisco I subscribed to T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi service on their casual rate - not the cheapest at US$6/hour, but it's great when in some airports, Starbucks and other places (except in New Zealand, where Starbucks is partnering with Telecom New Zealand for wireless LAN access). Also, T-Mobile accounts can be used in a great number of overseas countries - including some fast food places in Australia in Europe. And if thereís no T-Mobile around, I can simply take the Tablet PC to an Internet cafe and plug it to their LAN.

    Of course YMMV. For some applications like telemetry, dispatch or order taking, where users access small bursts of data and speed is not of essence even a slow network is acceptable. The current WAN (GPRS and CDMA) coverage is very good for these services. But these users are not likely to require sophisticated services like data roaming overseas.

    Any thoughts?

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