Motorhomers can now gain access to e-mail and the Internet using a dual-mode cell phone, a laptop computer, and a wireless cellular data kit from Ositech Communications.
By Peggi McDonald, F71504
Using the Internet on a day-to-day basis has become second nature for many of us. Being online is almost as common as watching television. It simplifies long-distance business operations, shopping, and gathering information on just about any topic. E-mail has become the main source of contact for many RVers. When we can complete a connection, the Internet offers a sense of “in-touch” freedom like little else. Thanks to today’s technology, we RVers now can travel the continent and still be nearby.
But until recently, to go online, we constantly searched for a landline (phone jack). Since we cannot move from place to place with a phone line attached like an umbilical cord, we must rely on available connections, such as those at campgrounds, airports, truck stops, and office supply stores. This can become frustrating, in part because the wait can be long, and the available time frame for online access can be very limited. As a result, many of us have begun to search for campgrounds with phone hookups at the campsite, simply because connecting without leaving our rolling home seems like heaven.
Fortunately, cell phone technology helps to make on-road communications easier. Dual-mode cell phones that function in both analog and digital modes are now available. Due to the cost of adding digital data service to rural areas with limited populations, there are still considerably more analog coverage areas in North America than digital access sites.
Recently, I tested two wireless Internet access kits from Ositech Communications that offer a solution to some of the issues related to connecting to the Internet in various locations and switching between digital and analog service. Ositech’s PC cards are called “Trumpcards.” Unlike other wireless data solutions, these cards aren’t limited to either analog or digital service. They feature Ositech’s exclusive CellFlex technology, which allows cellular data connections to be made in both digital and analog calling areas. Ositech’s active cable detects the network type in which you’re trying to place your call and configures the Ositech PC Card to connect accordingly.
With one of these special PC cards installed in my laptop computer, and my data-capable, dual-mode cell phone that is equipped to handle data/text messaging, I was able to pick up and send e-mail as well as surf the Internet from the comfort of my motorhome. These amazing CellFlex PC cards provide a simple in-touch solution for most cell phone users. Kits to connect dual-mode cell phones to your computer (digital only) are readily available from cell service providers; however, in many areas of this continent, connections are possible only in analog. The CellFlex cards are the only PC card that I’m aware of that can connect in both analog and digital coverage areas.
I tested the King of Clubs package, which is designed for use with a laptop computer that has an internal modem. I also tested Ositech’s King of Hearts package, which includes a 56K PC card modem and is designed for a laptop computer that either is not equipped with an internal modem or has one that needs to be upgraded.
Ositech’s auto-detection feature queries the phone for the most appropriate type of coverage. It will by default choose the digital data connection when it is available; if not, it will move to analog without interruption. Since analog service has been around longer, it remains much more widespread than digital service, although some metropolitan areas now operate on both systems. Ositech’s CellFlex products can be used not only with laptop computers and handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants), but with any device that contains a PCMCIA slot.
On our route south this past fall, we used our Toshiba computer for one of the tests. It was not equipped with an internal modem. Several years ago I added a basic cell/56K landline PC card to this laptop to connect in analog mode. It was never designed to work with my dual-mode cell phone. However, after installing the King of Hearts PC card plus 56K modem, I could connect to any landline using the enclosed modem cable. In addition, my dual-mode cell phone equipped with digital data/messaging connected just as easily using the special CellFlex cable. Our usage consisted of connecting via digital data in Canada, via a landline at two parks, and via our cell phone in analog mode in the rest areas en route, plus in several other campgrounds from the comfort of our motorhome. What a treat. As long as we had cell service (not in dead air), I easily connected to the Internet everywhere from Ontario to Florida. When we were in analog coverage areas, access was slower as is typical with a cell phone, but while retrieving digital data, the connection speed definitely increased.
I subscribe to AT&T’s International One Rate plan, which includes airtime, long distance, and roaming in each minute of use. So when using our cell phone to connect, it was more economical to dial my local Canadian ISP access number by long distance. However, when I connected to a landline, I used a local dial-up or the 800-access number for my ISP.
Previously, I installed the Ositech PC card called the King of Clubs on a different laptop computer for a mini test while in a large metropolitan city. The computer I used for that test was equipped with an internal modem for landline use, so I only needed the cell/data capabilities of the King of Clubs PC card. At that time my phone was not yet connected to digital data/text messaging service (definitely a requirement for optimum communication), but the versatile CellFlex PC card still allowed me Internet access in analog mode, even though my phone was operating in a strong digital service area.
On the first day, the King of Clubs PC card provided a good cellular analog data connection. Everything on the Internet was instantly available “” slower than a landline, but definitely a pleasant experience. However, on day two my connection speed decreased considerably, and trying to access anything but e-mail became somewhat erratic, with several interruptions in service. After I called the Ositech Technical Support line and discussed the situation with technicians, we concluded that the problem was most likely the result of heavy network traffic that busy Saturday evening, and that this probably would not have happened if I had been working in the more reliable and faster digital data service. Because I hadn’t yet subscribed to digital data service for my cell phone (although we were in a test area), I was only able to connect to the older, slower analog mode. (Digital data is a different process from data messaging.)
Since the launch of Ositech’s Trumpcards with CellFlex technology, cell phone users can stay connected everywhere cell service is available. It is easy to receive and send e-mail and to gain access to many facets of the Internet. Depending on your phone features, along with the functions and capabilities of your computer, you also may be able to send a fax using CellFlex. Remember, for optimum service, your phone must include a digital data service plan from your cellular service provider in a digital data access area. Of course, subscribing to a phone plan with sufficient phone minutes to support Internet usage is a must.
Several dual-band cell phone service providers are available in today’s market, but AT&T and Verizon seem to be the two most popular with RVers, because of their wide coverage for digital/analog voice service and their extensive single-rate plans.
AT&T has recently introduced digital data to a few select test markets in several larger urban centers, including some large cities in Canada, but these areas are still extremely limited in number. Verizon, on the other hand, is leading the way in launching digital data in many, but not yet all, locations throughout North America. Verizon calls its data service “mobile office.”
AT&T expects to introduce its digital data to a wide geographic coverage area in late 2002. Several current AT&T phone models will then function in digital data as well as voice.
To find more information about the availability of digital data service and which phones support both analog and digital connections, you can contact your service provider or visit Ositech’s Web site, www.ositech.com, and check out the section called “Can I Make Connections with my Phone and Provider?” under Wireless Products.
The auto-detection feature of Ositech’s CellFlex technology uses the modem built into dual-mode cell phones for digital data transmissions and a modem inside the PC card for analog connections. Because CellFlex works with your cell phone, all data and voice usage fees are part of your cell phone statement. These two-in-one CellFlex PC cards provide complete connectivity solutions, which allow RVers to log on at will from the privacy of their rolling homes. It is now fun and easy to roam freely from your home network and remain connected.
Ositech’s CellFlex two-in-one PC cards are compatible with Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, and NT 4.0. They connect your laptop computer or PDA to most Nokia or Motorola cellular phones “” dual-mode cell phones not listed in Ositech’s literature may still be compatible, but each would have to be assessed individually.
Simple installation of the CellFlex PC card modem software begins by inserting the Ositech Installation Wizard CD; next the Cellular Diagnostic Wizard checks your computer hardware and necessary drivers to ensure that they are working properly. Place the PC card in the slot; connect the cellular cable from your computer to your dual-mode phone; and follow the prompts to test the system. The Application Configuration Wizard verifies that all is well. You are now set to connect to the Internet at will. Baud connection rate is between 9,600 and 14,400 in analog and 19,200 when working in digital.
When problems occur, help is always close at hand in the Troubleshooting Tips and Hints section in the setup guide. If you continue to experience problems, call Tech Support at (888) OSITECH (674-8324), ext. 401, from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, or e-mail [email protected]. Everything required is part of the Wireless Internet Kit, from the setup CD to the connection cable(s), to a CellFlex PC card and a guidebook. The product comes with a five-year warranty.
The list price for Ositech’s CellFlex King of Clubs two-in-one PC card is $149 (U.S.), and the King of Hearts PC Card plus 56K modem lists for $199 (U.S.).
This past winter, it was a pleasure to stay in touch in the comfort of my motorhome using my Ositech King of Clubs PC card and my Nokia cell phone “” even if I was connected using only the slower analog service. Anywhere I had AT&T One Rate cell voice service, I connected to pick up my e-mail and do minimal surfing. If I had been using Verizon’s after-hour plan, I would have been able to surf considerably more. In all, the Ositech card provided a great way to stay connected as we roamed.
Ositech Communications Inc.
679 Southgate Drive
Canada N1G 4S2
Fax: (519) 836-6156
E-mail: [email protected]