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The Internet: coming to a taxi near you

The Internet: coming to a taxi near you

Back in the copper age of technology, anno 2002, I relied on dial-up connections to get work done while I was traveling on business. The connections were so slow I often found myself watching each Web page graphic draw line by line, hardly the most productive use of my time. Today, finding a high-speed connection to the Internet while traveling has become much easier, due primarily to the growing availability of hot-spot services, such as Boingo and T-Mobile. Still, in certain areas, finding a Wi-Fi hot spot to connect to can be difficult, and the 802.11 technologies on which Wi-Fi is based have their limitations. For example, they aren't equipped to deliver seamless roaming at high speeds. You can't use Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet from a moving taxi or in the train during your commute the way you use your cell phone to make voice calls. Now cellular carriers are beginning to offer broadband Internet access over the newly upgraded networks they're using for voice and video services. Over the past few weeks, I've been working remotely using a Novatel Wireless U730 to connect to Cingular's 3G network in San Francisco. The U730 modem slips into a PC card slot in your laptop and hooks you up to Cingular's new High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or HSPDA, network. I don't recommend working on your laptop while driving, but I used the U730 on my bus commute on those days when I did go into the office and found it a reliable work tool, even in a moving vehicle. The connection was a little slower than a typical Wi-Fi service but fast enough for me to tunnel into the computer in my office through CNET's VPN using a remote desktop connection. I also used the connection to make free Skype calls to business associates in China, though these calls were choppy at times. Although the productivity benefit of being able to work wherever you happen to be, even if it's in a speeding taxi, speaks for itself, there is a price to pay. Cingular's data plan currently weighs in at a hefty $79.99 per month for all-you-can-eat service. You can buy cheaper plans that cap the amount of data you can transmit, but then you're asking for overage charges that could wind up costing you even more. Better deals are available, however. Sprint and Verizon offer similar services for less via their growing high-speed EV-DO networks. Check out our review of Sprint's Mobile Broadband Service for more info.