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 Technology with Integrity

By Tim Torian, Torian Group, Inc.


A PDA is a wonderful tool. The only thing better is a PDA/Phone combination.  I used to carry a PDA on one hip, and a phone on the other. And of course, the pager.  Although Dilbert may feel that more is better, I favor simplicity. Carrying one gadget instead of two makes a lot of sense to me.

PDA stands for Personal Digital Assistant. They are the modern version of the Franklin Planner – The calendar and appointment book executives used to carry around with them.

Combining a phone with a PDA makes a lot of sense. The phone connection provides a way to connect to the internet, greatly enhancing the usefulness of the PDA. These amazing devices let you surf the internet, send and receive email, keep your calendar up to date with your office server, and even store mp3’s and let you record your voice.  Your contact list is integrated with the phone, so you can dial automatically. Some PDA’s also support wi-fi, which allows you to connect at high speed while in the office or in wireless “hot spots”, like most Starbucks, Kinkos and Borders stores, and many hotels and airports.  

One big drawback for some users is the difficulty dialing while on the move. Because it is a touch screen, you can’t dial by feel – you have to look at the screen while holding the phone in one hand and dialing with the other.  As a result, some phone vendors are offering voice recognition – you talk to your phone. It is getting better, but still may get you a wrong number at times, and only works easily with pre-programmed numbers.

PDA/Phones come in 2 main flavors: Microsoft’s Pocket PC, and Palm Pilot variations. Pocket PC is based on Windows CE, scaled down version of Windows.

For years I have had a T-mobile pocket pc. It holds my contact list, recent email, calendar, and notes about clients.  Recently I decided everyone in our company should have a phone/PDA. The idea was to get everyone connected in real-time to their office calendar, email, and client information. A laptop is just too big to have with you at all times.

We checked into the level of local service available from cell phone providers, the coverage at key clients, and tried out various phones. It was a lot of fun. 

T-Mobile got me a rep in San Francisco, who seemed to be reading off a script a lot of the time.  They have excellent assistance through their support center for questions about using the phone, once you get through all the menus. I used the T-Mobile Pocket PC PDA/phone. I gave up on the internet connection- it was too slow to be useful. Speed tests put it at about 20-30K from our office, less than 1/2 the speed of a good dial up connection. This is partly a function of the technology used to connect, and partly a function of where their cell towers are located.  All cell providers are continuously upgrading, and I am told T-Mobile will be changing to a higher bandwidth technology in the next few years. It was attractively priced- only $10 more per month for unlimited internet access. Too bad I couldn’t use it.

AT&T (now Cingular) directed me to their local store, on Mooney across from the Visalia mall. The staff were very helpful, but did not have much expertise with PDA/Phones.  Cingluar offers the Audiovox PPC4100 with Pocket PC 2003 and the palmOne Treo 600, and some attractive use packages. Their internet service is packaged with the phone plan.  The higher use plans include unlimited internet access, starting at $50/Month.

AT&T has recently merged with Cingular. They are in the process of consolidating their cell towers in California into one network under the Cingluar name. I have had one Cingluar user tell me that they have occasionally had problems connecting as the local networks are getting converted. When using Cingluar, I have had problems in the area east of Akers and Hurley, and in spots around the Goshen area. I lose signal completely in many buildings. Newer Cingluar phones use GSM signaling. 

Sprint has a CDMA network in our area.  At the time we were looking, they did not offer any PDA/Phone models we liked. Sprint now offers the Toshiba 2032, with Pocket PC 2002, and the Treo 600, which has gotten excellent reviews. (Palm just announced the Treo 650.)

Nextel has some attractive business offerings including internet access, but I am not aware of any PDA/Phone options.

We went with Verizon Wireless service and the Samsung I-700 Pocket PC phone, which includes a digital camera on top of everything else. This PDA uses Windows Pocket PC 2003, a modified version of Windows CE.  Their other PDA/Phone option is the Palm Treo 600. Local service from Verizon is excellent – I get a signal inside buildings that we couldn’t reach with AT&T or T-mobile. The only bad spot I have come across is around the corner of Demaree and Goshen. I’m told that they will have this fixed by the middle of November. Their internet connection speed is the best I have found in the area, clocking in at about 140K, or double what you would expect from dialup, and better than any of their competitors.  Verizon uses CDMA to connect, with some features that enhance the speed of data connections. They charge about $50 per month extra for unlimited internet access. The Verizon cell plan is the most expensive we looked at.

Verizon is offering very high speed internet over wireless phones in metropolitan areas, and they claim that it will be available in our area in a couple of years. I will believe it when I see it.

Another powerful option, if you need a laptop, is to equip it with a wireless phone card. You then have internet access, which includes the ability to connect to your office network from anywhere you can get a cell signal.  

Verizon has a Tech dedicated to the PDA and wireless laptop phone users in the central valley – Ed. Wright. He assists Verizon business customers with setting up custom applications for their PDA/Phones and laptops. The ability to be always connected to the main office opens up all kinds of possibilities.  We use it to keep everyone’s calendar up to date, and access information about clients while on site via custom web pages that connect to our office network

What should you do with all this information? PDA phones are not for the technically challenged. If you are using a PDA now, it may be the next step toward technology nirvana. If you would like to explore the topic further, here are some useful links:

www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/pocketpc/phone/default.mspx - Pocket PC
- Palm computing site
– Including PDA/Phones
 - Phone news
 - Technical news
Phone companies: verizonwireless.com  attwireless.com  cingular.com  sprint.com  tmobile.com  nextel.com

Bits & Bytes:

The Visalia NT User’s group is being resurrected as the Central Valley Network Professionals association. To find out more contact Bill Cross at the Torian Group, 733-1940.

The SBDC is offering a free seminar on computer security for business: Tues. Nov. 16 12-2. Contact SBDC at 625-3051.

If you would like to announce your tech related event, please email info@toriangroup.com.

Tim Torian has taught computer networking at the College of Sequoias and Cal Poly Extension. He has a BS in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networking for the past 30 Years. His industry certifications include: Cisco CCNA and CCNI, Microsoft MCSE. He was recognized as Entrepreneur of the year for 2008 by the Tulare County EDC. He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, web and custom software development. www.toriangroup.com


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