TECH TALK: An American Journey: Road Warrior

I experienced Wi-Fi for the first time in my life on this trip. In India, there really arent too many hotpots thanks to our governments policy of controlling access to the spectrum for public use. (There are indications now that Wi-Fi may finally be delicenced.) I also bought a notebook which had in-built Wi-Fi support. [I bought the Fujitsu Lifebook S6000 for about $1800 from Frys in Palo Alto. I realised that I had grown addicted to the keyboard of the Fujitsu notebook I had bought more than four years ago. Given the writing that I do, the keyboard was one of the most essential features for me.]

So, armed with a new notebook, I could try out the Wi-Fi connectivity. I didnt have to worry much in California all the hotels that we stayed at had DSL in the rooms. Then, I reached New York. In my wisdom of picking one of the more reasonably priced Manhattan hotels, I picked one which (a) did not have DSL (b) did not have Wi-Fi (c) charged 40 cents a minute for outgoing hotels. I thought this breed of hotels had long vanished!

Luckily, I was in the US. I quick visit to a nearby Starbucks got me a free one day account via T-mobile. [As an alternative, Kinkos is also there for the ones who find themselves in a situation similar to mine.] The next day, I took full advantage of the Wi-Fi at Columbia University (where I had gone for a meeting) which blankets much of the neighbourhood. Sitting on the lawn where I spent many an afternoon 16 years ago brought back old memories.

Wi-Fi is definitely both productivity-enhancing and addicting. The ability to open up a notebook, get connected within seconds to a network (for free or for a fee), and check ones email and browse the Internet is cool! I can only imagine how life will be once WiMax blankets entire geographical areas. In India, of course, we have another interesting option: Reliance Infocomms service allows Internet access from most towns and cities for 40 paise (less than 1 cent) a minute.

On the phone front, I had my India cellphone (Orange account) with international roaming. I had finally gotten rid of my 40-month-old Motorola cellphone for a Nokia 6600. The triband feature worked just fine. Switch it on and it would automatically get a GSM network. (I had to manually select the frequency band in my old Motorola phone.) Of course, the roaming charges are killing this is one place where the cellcos still rip you off. I had an alternative which I did not take I could have bought a local GSM prepaid account (since I had given my India cell number to most of the people I was meeting). On my next trip, I think I will carry an extra cellphone which I can use with a local prepaid card for local calls. I am already looking forward to the next generation of cellphones which have Wi-Fi built-in.

In addition, I have one of those prepaid calling cards in the US which allow me to make calls for a few cents a minute in the US from any landline phone. This way, I dont have to pay the usurious charges of hotel phones.

Taken together, these are the basics that a road warrior needs: hotels with DSL/Wi-Fi access, Wi-Fi enabled notebook, GSM cellphone with triband support and international roaming, and a local calling card/prepaid account for in-country calls. As a backup, I also have a CompuServ dial-up Internet account and a GRIC account (but didnt have to use either of them on this trip). Being connected is critical thats the only way we could have ensured that we did as many meetings as we did!

Tomorrow: Travel Vignettes

TECH TALK American Journey+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.