Author: Nola Young
The term “road warrior” has been around for a while now. Generally, it describes someone who carries any kind of portable or mobile device to keep in touch while travelling. Some people take this to extremes, seemingly carrying enough technology to fight a small war. This is the origin of the term “road warrior.” It is becoming more and more important that everyone in business be reachable at all times, even while out of the office, out of town or out of the country. No matter where someone works, portable and mobile devices enable people to access information and services needed to get their job done.
In this feature, you will learn about the various mobile and portable devices that are available now and how they will benefit you as you travel. We will also provide advice on selecting the technology that fits you best. You will also learn how these technologies are revolutionizing the way business people communicate.
The traditional weapon of choice of the road warrior is still the most useful. Today, there are very few differences in ability between a laptop computer and a desktop computer. Many business people, in fact, have decided to forego the desktop computer and use a laptop exclusively. You can purchase a docking station for your laptop that will connect it to the network, your monitor and your keyboard at the office. Then, when you leave, you can take your computer with you.
To work on documents with tools such as word processors and spreadsheets, the laptop is absolutely still the best choice. There are a few important factors to remember when considering the purchase of a notebook. First, do your research! A notebook is a significant investment, so be sure that the one you are buying is the right one for your needs.
If you’re planning to travel a lot with a notebook, it needs to be light. Many notebooks today weigh as little as one kilogram, which is important for travelers who often find themselves lugging their briefcases through airport terminals. It is also vitally important to consider battery life when purchasing a notebook. On a flight from Toronto to Vancouver, it can be very irritating if the battery on the notebook cuts out over Saskatoon. Finally, consider the modem speed. The Internet today is such that anything less than 56k modem will not be sufficient for accessing your e-mail or anything else online while away.
But despite its portability, the laptop is still huge by the standards being set by computer companies today. If you want to be able to take your office with you when you travel, then a laptop is probably the best choice.
One of the most recent crazes in the computer industry has focused on personal digital assistants (PDAs). PDAs are computers small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. They are called “assistants” because generally they are used for organization features such as appointments, task lists or address books. However, newer PDAs are also able to access the Internet and display e-mail messages.
There are two leading types of handheld computers, one of which has a definite lead. The second is catching up, but to a certain extent the two types appeal to different markets.
The first type of handheld computer comprises approximately 80% of the market. This is the Palm computer, which has been enormously popular. The Palm will allow you to use all the functions you might be used to in personal information management (PIM) software such as Microsoft Outlook, and also, with the addition of a modem sold separately, will permit you access to e-mail and the World Wide Web.
Palm also offers the Palm VII, which offers wireless Internet access right “out of the box,” that is to say, immediately after you buy it without the need for purchasing a new modem for your computer. Unfortunately, this service has yet to be made available in Canada as of this writing.
Windows CE (Pocket PC)
Windows CE is Microsoft’s alternative to the Palm system. The most recent version of Windows CE, which is also known as Pocket PC, has caught up to and in many cases surpassed Palm’s computers in terms of functionality. Almost all Pocket PCs sport colour displays, speakers and the ability to play MP3 music files, a Reader program that allows users to read electronic books, and a portable version of Microsoft Office including Word and Excel. Pocket PCs also support better Internet access, with a full version of Internet Explorer included. Like the Palm, the Pocket PC will connect to your desktop computer to synchronize information, such as appointments or tasks from Microsoft Outlook. Unfortunately, all these features generally make the Pocket PC more expensive than a Palm computer, and though some Windows CE PDAs do come with modems already installed, usually the Palm will be the cheaper alternative.
One feature that both of these systems allow is the ability to connect the computer, using a special cable, to a Digital PCS phone. This allows you to connect your computer to the Internet and to access your e-mail. If, however, this is all you plan to do with your handheld computer, then you might be able to forego the PDA and just get the phone. Find out how in the next section.
The Cell Phone
The cell phone has been a crucial part of the Road Warrior’s armory for years. Obviously, the ability to be called by telephone anytime, anywhere, is very appealing to the average Road Warrior. Recently, however, cell phones have become much more than telephones without wires.
The Cell Phone of Tomorrow, Today!
In the past, cell phones have transmitted analog data. The user’s voice was converted into a wave and this wave was transmitted to the network. Now, cell phones are increasingly digital, meaning that they have much better sound quality and are much more versatile. These are called Digital PCS phones.
On a modern cell phone, you can expect to find an address book, the ability to change your ring sound and even a few games to play during downtime. Now, some cell phones even offer e-mail access. The caveat is that few cell phones have the storage capacity to download entire messages, so you will only be able to read the first 100 characters or so using your phone. Still, if you absolutely need some e- mail access on the road, a cell phone may be able to meet that need.
Wireless Access Protocol
According to the experts, the “next big thing” in cell phones is WAP (Wireless Access Protocol.) Basically, WAP will allow you to surf the World Wide Web using your cell phone. There are obvious limitations to using a cell phone for Web access — the screen tends to be very small, the connection tends to be slow and it’s difficult to type with a cell phone key pad. Despite these limitations, the technology is being rapidly developed by telephone makers, and content for WAP-ready phones is popping up all over the Internet. Furthermore, enterprises are starting to take WAP seriously and are looking at what this can do for them.
With the recent technology advancements, cellular phones are still the most important part of a Road Warrior’s arsenal. As e-mail use increases, though, so will the use of one of the newest technologies to arrive on the market.
At Netwerx, we always cheer for the home team, so it’s nice that the most recent craze in mobile technology originated from right here in Waterloo, Ontario. Research in Motion, a Canadian company, recently released the Blackberry and it has been very popular, both here and abroad, ever since.
The Blackberry has a shape and size reminiscent of a pager. On its front it has a small QWERTY keyboard and a small display monitor. It uses wireless technology to remain connected to your e-mail constantly — in fact, your Blackberry will tell you as soon as you receive a new message. You can then reply to it or forward it. You can even send messages.
The Blackberry also includes rudimentary organizer functions, such as a calendar and contacts list. It can synchronize with your desktop computer to keep this information up to date.
There are a few drawbacks to the Blackberry, however. It doesn’t have much memory, so you won’t be able to save reams of e-mails, and it doesn’t have a fully-featured Internet connection, so you won’t really be able to access the Web. Finally, the Blackberry still has limited coverage. Its range does not include areas outside of the major metropolitan areas in Canada.
Still, given the popularity of the Blackberry so far, it does seem likely that these shortcomings are soon to be addressed. As long as you tend to spend more time in cities than in the country, the Blackberry is a very useful tool for mobile communication.
Emerging Technologies: Bringing it all together!
New technology, especially in a field such as mobile communications, is always emerging. With the increase of telecommuters, in the world, people need to be able to access their messages all the time, making the need for Unified Messaging even greater. Although Unified Messaging has been around for a while now, the big players have finally gotten it right, and has caused a great debate as to whether many of the partial solutions noted above will survive.
Unified Messaging is an emerging technology that has matured to an indispensable communication tool. Unified Messaging means having access to all forms of communication at anytime and anywhere around the globe. It lets you stay connected to voicemail, email and fax communications through the device of your choosing. It gives you universal access to all your message types whether you are in your office, in your car, at home, or in front of your laptop. Essentially, all communications get stored in one “unified” mailbox. This mailbox can be accessed through a laptop or a desktop computer, as long as the computer has access to an Internet connection, or you can access this mailbox through any regular or cellular phone.
This technology uses the simplest of equipment (any telephone) and yet allows complete connectivity. In the future, this technology may be one of the most important for Road Warriors everywhere.
Today, Unified Messaging solutions are generally considered at the corporate level, as they are, at least for the time being, rather expensive. Generally, they require Microsoft Exchange as a platform, and use its Message Store and directory services for all the message media types. Of all the companies that offer Unified Messaging products and services, two stand out as leaders.
Personal Virtual Assistant (PVA)
The most important part of PVA is that it gives you access to your Exchange and Outlook messages from any telephone through a voice interface. What makes it a remarkable product is its sophisticated dialog recognition, which goes beyond individual word speech recognition. The PVA doesn’t require specific word patterns and has the ability to ask clarifying questions if it doesn’t understand your request. This product should be a huge timesaver and productivity boost for any company with a large staff of frequent travelers.
Internet PBX by COMM2001
The other product of note is InternetPBX from COM2001.com. This full-fledged office telephone system runs on Windows NT/2000, integrates with Exchange and Outlook, and gives you powerful assistant, call-control, unified-messaging, and auto-attendant features. This is a very impressive product because of its enhanced version of Outlook Web Access.
New technologies do have unfortunate side effects: to paraphrase, familiarity breeds expectation. The business world increasingly expects workers to be in constant contact with anyone who must communicate with them. However, there are perks to being a Road Warrior as well. It can make it easier to solve problems and to stay in touch. It can also save a lot of time. In the final analysis, the balance between being a Road Warrior and the bliss of being completely unreachable by the outside world is one that must be struck by each individual user. Hopefully, the options presented in this feature will allow the user more control on where this balance stands.
Side Bar: Wireless E-mail Alternatives
Blackberry Internet Edition
This option uses the Blackberry RM-950 handheld to access an e-mail account through the Rogers AT&T network. This gives fairly good coverage in major metropolitan areas throughout Canada. This is the smaller of the two kinds of Blackberries, but it is very portable, being about the size of a pager. However, the coverage for Blackberry access is not quite as extensive as that offered by regular cell phone service.
Pocket PC with Cellular Phone Card
This is likely the most flexible solution but it requires a greater initial investment. It consists of two parts: The Pocket PC and a cellular connection kit for this computer that will connect to a cell-phone. This method will allow you to access e-mail wherever you have cellular service and will also not result in an additional bill (as it only takes airtime from your cell phone service.) The Pocket PC will allow you to perform all tasks associated with Outlook and complete Internet access in addition to e-mail. You will need to learn Graffiti (a set of handwriting gestures) to be able to input text into your computer but this won’t take longer than half an hour and will probably be easier to deal with than the tiny keyboard on the Blackberry. Additionally, you can purchase a collapsible full-size keyboard for the Pocket PC. The final disadvantage is size; the Blackberry is about the size of a pager and the Pocket PC will be slightly larger and must be connected to a cell phone. You will also not have continuous access to your e-mail but you will have to dial in to retrieve it. However, the greater options for service may justify this.
Palm Computer with Cellular Phone Card
The configuration of this option is similar to the Pocket PC. Palm – although it holds some similarities to Windows or Macintosh interfaces, the operating system for this device is significantly different. However for compatibility reasons or personal preference, the Palm may be the better course.
Nola Young is the president of KW Digital Solutions. Send your comments or questions by email or call 519-741-7641.