On the Road Again

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Kevin Gilbert has invested in so many mobile devices, he has trouble deciding which ones to take on a trip.

"My biggest dilemma sometimes when I get on an airplane is what I take. It all depends on what I'm doing, of course. Can't someone just come up with one killer device that does everything?" jokes the 47-year-old founder and CEO of Blue Pixel, a $2 million photography services agency in Annapolis, Maryland, and JustShowMeHowTo.com, a Blue Pixel division.

Simultaneously weighing Gilbert down in transit and making his existence more location-independent are his Palm Treo 650, an Apple Powerbook G4 17-inch notebook equipped with an EV-DO card, a Sony VAIO laptop, a Dell Precision 17-inch system and, of course, his photography equipment. Recently, Gilbert purchased the Apple MacBook Pro, which has taken over a majority of the duties of his other notebooks.

Battery giant Energizer recently took steps to address the on-the-road power dilemma many entrepreneurs face with two battery-driven chargers called Energi To Go, including a $19.99 edition that works with most cell phones from Nokia, Motorola, Sprint and Samsung, and two versions of a $29.99 device that juices up your Apple iPod or gaming gadgets such as the Sony PSP or Nintendo DS.

Gilbert's business partner, 34-year-old Alex Stevens, is equally laden, carrying both a Motorola Q mobile phone on the Verizon network and a Motorola Razr serviced by Cingular, as well as a MacBook that has a 12-inch screen and can run both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems. Stevens rigged his notebook so the Q phone can operate as a wireless modem when he's out of Wi-Fi range (though this application isn't exactly a sanctioned use of the technology). Says Stevens, "We need to be facile on everything that is out there."

Freedom to Roam
These two entrepreneurs have a particularly mobile profession, and it seems they've got plenty of company in the airport lounge--and the chiropractor's office. Business owners continue to rewrite the definition of office, abetted by the advent of reliable high-speed wireless connections across the United States.

A survey of mobile professionals conducted in June by the American Small Business Travelers Alliance, which canvassed more than 1,400 entrepreneurs, found 80 percent rely on wireless devices as a lifeline to their businesses. Of those surveyed, 55 percent use a wirelessly enabled notebook for e-mailing. Not surprisingly, 65 percent of the respondents said they prefer laptop computers to desktop models. Approximately 35 percent said they believe this technology--in addition to mobile phones, smartphones and PDAs--helps them gain an edge on larger businesses.

"I can manage everything from anywhere, even on vacation," says Monique Hamaty-Simmonds, 35-year-old founder of Tortuga Imports in Miami. She began using a BlackBerry and a wireless notebook extensively when her first daughter was born five years ago. Hamaty-Simmonds travels often between Miami and the Cayman Islands, where the rum cakes and gourmet products her $4.1 million business sells are made. But she's equally concerned with being connected across shorter distances. "I have access from the nursery [or the] kitchen," she says. "I might be on the playground."

Those who have invested in mobile technology both personally and for their employees embrace device choice. "In our office, we don't really have any sensitivity to price because it's all about function," says Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, founder of Platinum Studios, an entertainment company in Beverly Hills, California. "If [my employees] are willing to work outside the office, I want to fully enable them."

Platinum buys a 15,000-minute cellular package to accommodate its 25-person team every month. Rosenberg, 37, personally spends about 20 hours per week in his car commuting. He hired a driver so he can work during those hours and carries a mobile phone and two BlackBerrys, one on Verizon and one on Cingular, because you can never really tell which network will work best in different parts of Los Angeles. Plus, he often wants to talk on one while scanning e-mails on the other. Platinum is considering the Motorola Q phone to replace the BlackBerrys. Given the nature of Rosenberg's work, his Apple Video iPod actually counts as a business expense. And when we spoke with him back in June, Rosenberg was using a Dell notebook but had plans to upgrade to a Sony VAIO within a few months.

Freedom of Choice
The good news is there are plenty of products with which entrepreneurs can arm themselves and their employees. Gartner predicts worldwide shipments of mobile PCs will grow 31.4 percent this year. Mobile phone sales have continued to explode, and the research firm expects total worldwide shipments of 960 million units. There were about 15 million handhelds and PDAs shipped in 2005, and the category continues to grow by about 6 percent, with average selling prices of about $395. Sales of smartphones, such as the BlackBerry 7100 series and the Palm Treo 650 and Treo 700 lines (running on Windows or Palm software), continue to grow more quickly than those of their data-only kin.

Samir Bhavnani, director of research for Current Analysis in San Diego, says average selling prices for notebooks slipped to $950 in the second quarter. He says by December, for that price, you'll be able to get a model with a 14- to 15-inch screen, an Intel Core Duo processor, up to 2GB RAM, a DVD burner and a 100GB hard drive. Personalization in the form of different colors or engraving will become possible, and widescreens will continue to gain ground. Sony and Toshiba are both making strides on this front. Because of continued delays for Windows Vista, Microsoft's next major operating system update, many vendors will opt for Media Center PC software, which enables various multimedia capabilities. Wi-Fi wireless support has become virtually ubiquitous, Bhavnani says, but for a premium of $200 to $300, you can invest in a model that links to a broadband wireless service. "The speeds are what I term 'good enough,'" he says. "It's much easier to connect to a cellular network than it is to Wi-Fi."

Ori Eisen, founder and CEO of The 41st Parameter, a Scottsdale, Arizona, business that generates seven-figure annual sales by specializing in thwarting online fraud, is a relative luddite when it comes to the notebook he carries. Though he recently purchased an IBM ThinkPad T43p, he still uses his 3-year-old ThinkPad. And he couldn't live without his Verizon Air Card. With it, Eisen, 36, often links to WebEx for spontaneous product demonstrations when visiting a potential client. "In some cases they don't have internet access at all, or they don't have internet for visitors," says Eisen. The Air Card makes it possible.

All the market leaders--including Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Sony--offer some broadband option, but at press time, Bhavnani said Dell was the only one to offer a notebook that could be switched on with more than one carrier. Verizon and Cingular lead the pack as far as service packages, which run between $59 and $70 per month, he says. That monthly price tag, according to Bhavnani, will need to drop to $20 for broadband to become widely accepted by more than just early adopters. But by this time next year, this is entirely feasible, he adds.

"It's quickly becoming a desired feature among the road warrior set," Bhavnani says. "This is what you really need if you want to see adoption take off and be mainstream."

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This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On the Road Again.

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