Un-tethered, elements of a wireless lifestyle


For almost a year, I have wanted to cut the cord, the phone cord that is. I dreamed of a day when I could simply have one number, one computer and one mobile phone. And still enjoy the benefits of an always-on connection. Unlike others, I don’t indulge in downloading music or streaming videos off the web, though occasionally I have the urge to watch Yankeesgames via the MLB.com. Perhaps that is the only time I see the actual benefits of the SBC/Yahoo DSL connection. Still it is $39-a-month too much at times since most of the time, I am in office, or on the road.

Nevertheless, I tried a little experiment – how to be wired always, and be not beholden to a Bell pipeline to the Internet. I have to say it proved to be much easier than I really realized – and much has to do with three current trends – the rise of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and of course the unrelenting march of Moore’s Law.

But even before I started, I had made up my mind, I needed to reduce the clutter in my briefcase -there were way too many devices which I was lugging along. A Sony Clie NX70-v PDA, a 15GB Apple Ipod, a Samsung S105 cellular phone, an Apple Titanium PowerBook, an assortment of headphone, hands free dongles, PC cards, Bluetooth adapters and a whole bunch of crap, which added up to a backbreaking 20 pounds. It was too much to lug around on the notoriously slow MUNI buses in San Francisco. Within three weeks of getting back to the city by the bay, it was time to take drastic actions. Thanks to Craigslist, I managed to get rid of pretty much everything within a week – with the exception of my Ipod, which I had no intentions of selling. Total cash bounty: $3100.

It was look for replacements, which made my working life easier, simpler, and of course un-tethered!

Here is what I settled on:

1. Apple PowerBook 12-inch version, 867Mhz with a SuperDrive. (Cost: $2000 from the Apple Store)

2. A Sony Ericsson T610 with a Bluetooth headset. (Cost: $600 total from Expansys.com)

Since the new PowerBooks have built in Extreme Wireless Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in, there was no need to carry any wired, connectors or even a mouse. The new Sony Ericsson T610 has built in Bluetooth, a fantastic PDA and is puny in size. The Bluetooth headset, and the stares it elicits took some getting used to, but once you overcome that, it is pretty smooth sailing.

With hardware in place, it was time to call my mobile service provider, T-Mobile. Despite patchy coverage, the company’s network sharing arrangement with Cingular is enough for my purposed. I cut my voice plan from $99 a month, to $60 a month, and added a $29.99 unlimited data, and $19.99 a month, Wi-Fi plan to my service. Total actually is a lot lower than my $99 a month voice only plan. (Something to do with taxes!)

Now I can connect to T-Mobile’s GPRS network at about 55 kilobits per second pretty much anywhere in San Francisco, or can pop in for a Chai Latte, at Starbucks and check my mail, surf the web and send out documents to my office account. I am bidding time – when my contract is over, I am more likely than not, switching to Verizon Wireless, and getting their $70 a month data plan. And adding about $40 worth of voice minutes to it. But it is all contingent on if Verizon has a Bluetooth phone in the offering. If not, then perhaps I can stick to the good old T-Mobile.

So now what does my briefcase looks like – strangely empty and weighs in at about 7 pounds, which is comfortable to walk around. However, there are a couple of problems – for instance, the PowerBook 12 inch runs hot after a while, so hot that you make *tandoori chicken* on the damn thing! T610 (which matches the brushed aluminum exterior of the PowerBook) has a propensity for getting smudged and its ring tone volume is quite low, and has a rather weak RF. Perhaps, the next generation of Bluetooth phones will be better – but nevertheless it still does the job!

So this is my new un-tethered lifestyle! (I am still paying SBC the money, but will cut the cord soon enough.) I would love to hear from you – suggestions, ideas and your own version of a wireless world.

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