Wireless PC cards allow Internet access on the road

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. – Internet access has become a must for many over-the-road truckers. It’s a convenient way to keep in touch with family, notify your carrier about delays or complications and pass the time when waiting for a new load. In many cases, the Internet is a vital tool when it comes to finding that next load.

However, not all truck stops, rest areas and terminals are WiFi hotspots and connecting can be a challenge.

Fortunately for truckers, there are now wireless PC cards which can access the Internet wherever cellular telephone coverage is available.

Truck News recently had the opportunity to test the Kyocera PC Passport which is available on the Bell Mobility and Telus networks. It was introduced for Bell Mobility users last October and Telus customers in January.

The card plugs into the wireless card slot on most PCs and enables users to surf the Internet wherever cellular phone coverage is available.

For Bell Mobility and Telus users, this is done over the EVDO network. Rogers and Fido have a similar offering, utilizing the GSM/GPRS network.

Customers must first purchase the wireless card and then subscribe to the plan that best fits their requirements. They are generally charged based on the amount of data pulled through the card.

“Once you decide which card is for you, research the data plans to find out which one is the best for you,” suggests Matt Hickey, Canadian sales manager with Kyocera Wireless. “They all involve how many megabytes per month you would pull through the card. It starts at 10 MB and ranges all the way to unlimited, so talk with your provider and find out which plan may be the best for you. Start out on a lower plan but if you’re going to blow that away they’ll bump you up to the next plan without charging you again.”

In the trucking industry, the earliest adopters of the technology are municipal fleets, Hickey explains. Some large municipal fleets have equipped each of their vehicles with laptops so the drivers can access their corporate networks, view service orders, update work orders, etc.

Many of those same municipal fleets are also purchasing a companion product, a wireless router, so when they show up at job sites they can share their Internet connection with co-workers.

The speed of the connection is similar to that of a high-speed DSL line. When out of range of the EVDO network, the card resorts to the 1X network, which offers the speed of a 56K modem. While not ideal for exchanging large files, it still enables users to access e-mail, surf the Internet and tap into corporate networks.

“The 1X network is okay if you have to do something text-based – if there are very small bursts of data you needed to get through,” Hickey says.

The EVDO network, on the other hand, offers transfer rates of 2.4 MB per second. The GSM/GPRS network used by Rogers and Fido is comparable. Hickey admits the two networks tend to leapfrog each other in terms of speed and coverage capabilities.

High speed areas include all major Canadian cities as well as a large area surrounding the Greater Toronto Area. Coverage has recently been expanded to include cottage country as well. When out of range of a EVDO or GSM/GPRS network, the card automatically switches to the 1X network.

The software that comes with the Kyocera Passport card indicates which network is currently being used, so the customer is aware of any downloading limitations. It also features handy text messaging capabilities which allow users to send text messages to other mobile phone users.

When a response is received, it pops up in a text messaging window when the card is in use.

An external, flexible antenna is also available on the Kyocera Passport card, which is more resistant to breaking than the previous metal antenna.

Customers can also choose a special 3 DB antenna which adds extra range to the card, allowing drivers to maintain contact with the EVDO network for an extra 20 km or so. It can be mounted on the laptop itself, or various parts of the truck.

Which network you opt for depends on a number of factors. The GSM/GPRS network allows users to access the Internet and send e-mail from overseas whereas the EVDO network does not. However, that’s not likely a major consideration for most truckers.

Hickey says the EVDO network has the capability of going to a higher bandwidth and higher throughput than its GSM/GPRS counterpart. But realistically, that also won’t be an issue for truckers as both networks will be capable of delivering far greater throughput than ever required by most users.

“If you’re looking to get 54 MB/second through a card, it can be done, but who wants to pay $500 a month?” he points out.

The best advice is to shop around, purchase a card that suits your needs and find a package that provides the optimum amount of data transfer at the best price.

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