New technology is giving the mobile office a facelift.
Tim Brunelle knows a thing or to about working on the road. A freelance creative director and copywriter, Brunelle travels by train to New York City each week from his home in Boston.
The satchel Brunelle carries with him on his commute is like a treasure chest filled with all sorts of technological toys. The gadgets and gizmos he travels with help him stay productive while on the road, and keep in touch with his wife, Jennifer, and his 6-month-old son, Maks.
"I try not to minimize for travel," Brunelle says. Interested more in the quality and functionality of his mobile technology than the price, Brunelle buys smart, practical tools that also fit easily into his hectic life and compliment his style.
His most useful gadget? His Palm Treo650 phone.
Besides being a mobile phone, the Treo650 is also a PDA, MP3 player, SMS (Small Messaging Service--for sending and receiving text messages) and a digital camera with Bluetooth technology, Web access, and e-mail. Users can also view PDF and Word files. But just because technology puts the world at your fingertips doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to learn how to use it.
"There's so much technology out there that you end up having to adapt to it. How it is designed or functions is some designers subjective opinion on how it should work," Brunelle says. He spent over 30 minutes with a former boss, teaching him how to customize the buttons on the Treo650 to make it easier to use.
Analysts agree that mobile technology for businesses needs to be so trustworthy that using it requires little effort. This efficiency simplifies the lives of business travelers--especially business people who travel frequently. According to Forrester Research, road warriors (people who take seven or more business trips a year) make up a quarter of the market, and technology developments in the mobile technology industry are keeping step with their busy lifestyles.
If the Treo650 interface doesn't suit your fancy, there are other options available, such as a new PDA-phone from Motorola. The Q phone, touting the thinnest QWERTY keyboard device anywhere, will run on the new Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 platform and is expected to be available to the public before June 2006.
However, the most exciting new mobile technology on the market today isn't a gadget: It's new 3G data services.
For the traveling businessperson 3G (third generation) technology is helping them stay more productive in more places than ever before. It is a high-speed wireless Internet service that can be accessed wherever your mobile phone provider offers cellular service--in the U.S. and abroad.
"3G data services create application experiences that more closely resemble the office environment," says Eugene Signorini, director of wireless/mobile technology solutions at the Yankee Group in Boston. Instead of working in designated hot spots, like a coffee shop or public library, 3G users can work within their mobile phone network--whether in a home, hotel, or clients' office space.
As long as your laptop has a type II PC card slot, getting hooked up with 3G is easy--but not yet not cheap. You can connect by using either a 3G capable phone or device (like a BlackBerry) or purchase a 3G card from your mobile phone service provider that you insert directly into your laptop. Sprint sells its 2 ounce Connection Card for about $240, while Verizon sells its for up to $179. The cards come packaged with software to get you up and running on their networks from 400 to 700kbps--seven times faster than dial-up.
Rate plans for Verizon, Sprint, and Cingular can cost members from $59 to $79 a month for access. Cingular has deployed 3G technology in 13 cities across the country and has plans for nationwide expansion. For businesses that frequently send employees to Europe, Cingular customers can access its Internet overseas for a monthly fee of $139.99.
When it comes to purchasing telecommunications technology, analysts have found that companies are more concerned with reliability and security and less concerned about money.
3G data services have safer networks than wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks, where wireless Internet users can piggyback on their neighbors' network for free without them knowing. 3G air interface has thus far been hacker-proof, according to Signorini. To cover its 3G network, Sprint uses a wireless authentication and identification system that makes it practically impossible for unauthorized users to get their hands on your information.
Cingular boasts that with their BroadbandConnect service your session will never drop if moved outside of the coverage area. Their modem cards are built so the session is transferred to Cingular's EDGE network or a data network of one of its roaming partners. This keeps users from losing their work in cyberspace.
"We've rolled out [3G cards] to our top executives to see if they like them," says Jillian Piper, a director of technological solutions based in Indianapolis. So far, the executives love the fact they can work online virtually anywhere. The next step is to find out what service provider will work best for the company's needs. In the future, Piper envisions the company purchasing new Lenovo ThinkPads with 3G technology built in.
"We take the [wireless carriers] information to access their networks and integrate it into our notebooks," says Jeff Dudash, Lenovo spokesman. Lenovo is currently working with U.S. carriers Verizon and Cingular, as well as Vodafone in the UK and Asia-Pacific.
For Apple users, like Brunelle, 3G technology isn't available as of yet.
"Of course I'm interested in the benefits of 3G, but I'm not a tech-head, just tech-curious," says Brunelle. "I guess I need to see the 3G in terms of a product, but the basic idea of 3G sounds very appealing."
For now Brunelle has to be content to ride the Acela sans Internet access. He'll kick back and watch a movie, listen to some tunes on his iPod Shuffle, or work on revising a script. 3G technology would allow him to attend meetings while traveling via web conferencing using his iSight camera and iChat function on his iBook. Without it, though, productivity takes a back seat to catching up on some sleep.