Have palmtop will travel, but can you get the latest football scores? Seamus Waldron suffers the heatache of learning to live life on the road with his palmtop. |
December 1997 (Update, Dec. 2003)
I want to supply telecomms solutions for the traveler, be it a journalist, a businessman or an entire expedition. The only problem with this idea was my total lack of experience applying my communications knowledge in practical field situations. By putting my money where my mouth was, I bought an IBM PC110 Palmtop Computer and a ticket to China. Thus started a mini odessy in the discovery of remote telecommunications....
After travelling all over the world, I ended up with a system that worked. This comprises of an IBM PC110 palmtop computer, Ameol email/newsgroup software and a TeleFast acoustic coupler from TeleAdapt.
Below you will find the evolution from first attempt to final success.
The road to connection.
My objective for China was simply, send some e-mail.
What does this entail? Well, my proposed solution was simple, use WinCIM to connect to Compuserve and then voila!
Complete failure, but why? It should be simple, back in England all I have to do is plug the internal modem into the phone socket and then run WinCim. Why didn't it work? Well, first of all, there is no access number for Compuserve in China, therefore you need to go through a 'broker' and this costs $$$$. My next problem was that it looked as though every telephone in China is wired directly into the wall and that those that are not have many different types of sockets. What finally killed all hope of success was that the Chinese power socket blew up my power transformer.
If I had had more time, I would have been able to open a Chinese Internet account in Beijing and used that - however I didn't take my floppy disk drive OR my docking station with me, so even that solution would not have worked for me at the time. It became obvious that I needed a global IP, one that really did have POP's everywhere. Also, I needed a solution to combat the hard-wired phones and different phone connectors.
- Use a local access provider if you can OR subscribe to a truely Global Internet Service.
- Don't rely on plugging your PC110 directly into the phone line of your hotel.
Okay, so internet life wasn't easy in China, so I did a bit of playing around with stuff back in England and jumped at the chance of going out to The Gambia, ideal location for testing telecomms. In theory, if I could get everyhting working in the middle of no-where, then I would be onto a winner.
Objective : Have e-mail and Web connectivity. On the PC110, this will be DOS based, on the laptop, this can be Windows based. To achieve these objective, I propose three things.
- For connectivity software, use the new WebBoy DOS browser/E-Mail from IBM.
- Use IBM Global Network for internet access.
- Use an acoustic coupler supplied by TeleAdapt Ltd to allow connection to any telephone.
- Use solar technology to power the equipment.
Well, I flew out to Banjul in The Gambia on July 19th 1997. With me was my now faithfull travel companion - my PC110, a GPS, my TeleFast acoustic coupler, a not quite installed version of WebBoy and my snowboard.
To say that things did not go well was an understatement. The bottom line was that it was impossible to get a clean telephone line. The only access to telephones are through local GamTel offices (GamTel being the national telecoms providor). Connecting PC110 to acoustic coupler and attaching to phone should have worked, but guess what? The charging mechanism sends a very load click follwed by a blank on the line, my comms software didn't have a chance. I didn't use WebBoy as at that time it was not fully configured and I needed somebody to translate some more Japanese for me, but I did use Ameol, an excellent email package for use with the British CIX online service.
After returning from The Gambia, I was the studio guest on "The Works", the BBC World Services' premiere technology program. They were interested in the idea of a "telecommunications center in you backpack" and the ways this technology can be exploited in remote areas. Since that interview I have also been interviewed about the connection technology on Polish TV, though this was conducted through the internet.
Finally, total success
I next flew out to Hungary with a list of IBM pops in my diary. My first attempt to connect was hamperd due to my battery running low. This had nothing to do with the acoustic coupler as this has it's own battery.
My next attempt, was brief but successfull. When leaving Hungary I had time to setup shop in a telephone booth and play. I blind dialed, made the connection and voila, success. Finally, everything had come together.
TeleAdapt recommend you to practice connecting before you ever leave home, I cannot emphasise this too strongly. I was having problems even though I had practised at home. Of course, it didn't help that I was trying to connect in odd countries with of telecomms.
I returned to Hungary a month later, this time I wanted to prove that I could do viable work and upload it to a web site. The core of my equipment was the PC110 and the Telefast coupler. My travels look me from Hungary, to Austria and then up to Berlin in Germany. I was able to construct a complete web site during this time, commnicate with the company I was doing this for and download it to the web. This is definately was the way to telework.
I made two interesting discoveries of note. First, when connecting to a POP from a phone box (which is what I did on every occasion), I recommend that you use a phone card. This will save you time and money and give you less things to worry about during your connection. You should setup everything before you dial. Strap the Telefast to the phone, get your FTP/email software running, everything ready for you connection. The tick is to have something weighed down on the phones handle, so the phone thinks the handset is on the hook. This will stop messages comming through the phone due to inactivity. Finally, when you are ready, remove you weight, blind dial and connect. Let the computer take the strain.
Strangely, the only real trouble I had on this trip was in Berlin. Some phone boxes worked, others did not. When I looked at a map, I realsied that all the phones that didn't work were within the old East Berlin. Coincedance? I don't know.
In the new year, I will travel to South America, to showcase the ultimate in teleworking. Using a new palmtop computer, the TeleFast and some other related technology, I will show that the world really has shrunk to the size of allowing you to work for any company, wherever you are in the world.
By Seamus Waldron (c)1997
Update - December 2003
In the intervening years between this article and now, I have traveled to many places with my palmtop computers. The one piece of kit that has remained constant is the Telefast acoustic coupler, however I have used bot han Apple iBook (which was just too heavy and big) and now a Sony PCG-U1 an excellent, lightweight palmtop which runs Windows2000/XP.
In a six week European tour, I found that most of the time the best method of internet connection was to use a local Internet cafe. In most countries, it was possible to hook into the Internet cafes network using Ethernet. The main excpetion to this was Holland and England. In South America, it is also possible to use this method of connection, though when I was there I did also sign up to a local free internet providor whos detials I had found out before leaving.