On the Road Again?

Protecting Tech on the Road

Getting Around

Who among us doesn't hate lugging a notebook around the airport in the post-9/11 era? You could speed up your trip by registering with the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) new Registered Travel Pilot Program, which kicked off in airports in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Washington, DC, last summer. The idea is that preapproved frequent fliers can use a designated checkpoint lane where they submit to finger or iris scans to confirm their identities. Of course, you need to give up all sorts of personal information and submit to a security assessment by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to participate. The pilot program is supposed to end late this year, and the TSA will evaluate its success at that time.

Speaking of security, several mobile experts interviewed for this piece recommend considering mobile management technology from Senforce Technologies if you've got a fleet of salespeople or other mobile workers out on the road. The relatively high-end software, which requires that you invest in some sort of server, locks down the computer in both wired and wireless settings by sensing what location it's in. This software is priced starting at $89.99 per user. Credant Technologies provides an offering, Mobile Guardian Group Edition, that includes a personal firewall. Starting at $49 per user, this software promises secure wireless access, policy management capabilities and device control profiles. It works across a company's notebooks, smartphones, PDAs and tablet PCs.

Unfortunately, many mobile entrepreneurs neglect to secure their smartphones, plug-in cards and other devices-not realizing they need the same kind of protection typically extended to laptops and desktops. No matter the device, if it stores intellectual property or other confidential data, you need to protect it.

One extreme measure would be to invest in a notebook with a fingerprint sensor that lets only the authorized user sign on, such as the new 3.27-pound LifeBook P7000, which starts at $1,799, or one with a swappable hard drive, such as the aforementioned Panasonic Toughbook, which lets you leave sensitive data back in your office.

When it comes to form factors, analysts expect notebooks sporting 17-inch screens to gain ground as replacements for desktop PCs, although they are still heavy to lug around and eat up plenty of battery life. Tablet PCs could build in popularity, for a couple of reasons: The new edition of the Microsoft operating system on which most are designed now allows them to be built in a wider variety of sizes, and the $400 to $500 price differential that currently exists between tablets and traditional notebooks will begin to ease.

The ultraportable category could be stimulated by the much-anticipated arrival of the OQO Model 01, slated for release in late 2004. The early versions being shown off by OQO's executive team, comprised of former designers associated with Apple's nifty PowerBook and iBook lines, are less than 5 inches long, weigh 14 ounces, and come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They can be docked for connections to a broader array of peripherals. Says Atwal, "As we get more types of form factors, they will appeal to a segmented audience."

If portability is your main concern, those of you with bad backs may appreciate the APC TravelPower Backpack, which comes with an integrated power system that lets you simultaneously charge your mobile phone and handheld computer. At an estimated retail price of about $120, the backpack also contains connectors for most notebook models and adapters for airline power receptacles and cars. For the fashionably hip, the folks at ScotteVest, a company that makes clothing designed to carry electronic accessories, plan to ship $130 cargo pants this fall with 14 hidden pockets for all your smaller electronic devices. They may be more stylish than a computer bag, but emptying those pockets for an airport security checkpoint might not be all that much fun.

The Wireless Way

In some corners of the world, it's easier to find a wireless hot spot than it is to find a public telephone. Devices like the new $29.95 Wi-Fi Seeker from PCTel can help you locate them and determine their signal strength.

"Wi-Fi won't ever become pervasive enough to be used when traveling about, but Wi-Fi access will become as convenient as finding a gas station for your car," says MobileTrax's Purdy.

There is perhaps no better illustration than Wayport's deal this year with SBC Communications to outfit more than 6,000 McDonald's locations with FreedomLink hot spots, which can also be found in UPS Stores throughout SBC's regional territory. The IT consulting company is reportedly booked into 2005 for wireless network installations. Although this year saw the exit of the high-profile hot spot provider Cometa Networks, funded by the likes of AT&T, IBM and Intel, Gartner predicts that by 2007, more than 35 million users will use more than 160 million hot spots worldwide. The firm also predicts that by year-end 2005, 10 percent of broadband internet connections will be made through wireless means.

For obvious reasons, many new hot spots are cropping up in major travel centers, with airports and airline clubs offering them as perks for frequent fliers. Depending on your location, Wi-Fi access is charged by the minute, by the day, or as an add-on option for existing wireless services accounts-so it can get expensive quickly if you aren't using the payment option that's best for your particular traveling habits. And if you're in a heavily trafficked airline club, for example, service can be spotty since crowds of users can slow down the network. Costs vary, too: T-Mobile charges $19.99 per month for a 1-year contract if you're adding hot-spot access to an existing account, or $29.99 per month for new accounts; Boingo Wireless has plans starting at $21.95 per month or $7.95 for two connect days; and Wayport charges $9.95 per day for access from a hotel or $6.95 from an airport. You can also buy prepaid connection cards from Wayport starting at $25 for three connections.

Some current experiments will see Wi-Fi introduced over the next 12 months in places where it is less common today. Amtrak and AT&T Wireless just began offering Wi-Fi access in six train stations along the Northeast corridor, for $9.99 per day. Existing AT&T Wireless Wi-Fi customers can use their existing accounts.

But what about wireless on the move, given that each Wi-Fi hot spot technically only covers an area of 300 square feet? In Washington state, federal grants are paying for the deployment of wireless internet service onboard three major ferry routes. Among other things, the test being run by IT services firm Mobilisa will study the unique challenges of using Wi-Fi over water. Similar projects in North America and Europe are being engineered by service providers along with PointShot Wireless.

And if several airlines have their way, Wi-Fi won't be earthbound for long. Lufthansa has installed a Wi-Fi system called FlyNet on five of its planes, which offers passengers the ability to send e-mail or surf the internet in flight. The service includes a metered option costing $10 per half-hour and 25 cents per minute after that, and a flat-rate option costing $19.95 for flights 3 to 6 hours or $30 for flights longer than 6 hours. The download speed is 5Mbps, which is shared among users. Lufthansa says it plans to upgrade all 80 of its planes by the end of 2006. The ISP service, Connexion by Boeing, was tested by air-traffic authorities, which have authorized its use at cruising altitudes only. The company also has definitive contracts with Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airline System.

Connexion by Boeing can expect future competition from Airbus, SITA Inc. and Tenzing, which announced plans in mid-July to form a new company offering in-flight connectivity services for mobile phones, PDAs and notebooks. (That plan is subject to regulatory approval.) Tenzing already offers e-mail and text-messaging service aboard flights on Cathay Pacific Airways, Continental Airlines, Iberia, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On the Road Again?.

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