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A Wireless World
Erik Boemanns
February 1, 2002

A Wireless World:
Palm i705
Verizon Express Network
Do you feel out of touch? Probably not, unless your cell phone battery has died. But if you do, new wireless technology launching this month can help keep you connected to the world, as long as you’re in range.

Palm i705 Handheld

Palm, Inc, the pioneers of the handheld computer industry, have launched their second Palm computer with built-in support for wireless connectivity. Like its predecessor, the Palm 7, the device operates over Palm’s private wireless network. This network gives you reasonable nationwide coverage. 

Unlike the Palm 7, the new i705 borrows heavily from the successful two-way pagers, such as the Blackberry. The i705 is “always-on,” which means it checks your email even when its in your pocket. New messages are indicated by a flashing light, a tone, and/or a silent vibration. The i705 evens works with AOL’s Instant Messenger service, which means you never have to sign off – even when you’re at a restaurant. An optional keyboard will even make the i705 look something like a Blackberry device, so you can type your replies, rather than use the Grafiti handwriting.

There are a couple of key limitations of the i705 that should be considered. The i705 uses the same “web clipping” technology as the Palm 7. This means that it can only access web sites that have built a special Palm interface. While most of the big sites have this, it is a ultimately limited selection of sites compared to what you can find on your desktop computer. 

The other limitation is that the i705 is not color. While this is likely related to saving battery capacity for the wireless functionality, it is a notable limitation when comparing to other handhelds in this price range. Many wireless add-ons exist for color Palm computers, and their Microsoft-based Pocket PC competitors. Color isn’t a requirement for browsing the wireless web, but it is a plus.

If you’re currently carrying around a Blackberry and a Palm V and live in the service area, then it’s probably worth your while to consider the $449 i705. An unlimited service plan will cost $39.99/month, which is comparable to 2-way text pager services. A limited-bandwidth plan is available for $19.99/month. Others may want to wait to see if Palm decides to release a color version, or instead get a different handheld, and purchase the wireless functionality later, once you need that ability. Ultimately, this is an innovative product, but one that probably has a limited market appeal.

Verizon 3G Wireless Services

The other big wireless news comes with the announcement of Verizon’s Express Network, a high-speed wireless data service. This is categorized as a Third Generation (3G) cell-phone service, even though it currently requires a computer to take advantage of the information. The 3G cell phone service was supposed to herald in a new era of wireless Internet connectivity and new communication services like wireless video phones. As Verizon Express Network is the first US-based 3G network, it is does not offer the full potential of 3G. It is currently available in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and the Northeast coast (from Portlane, Maine to Norfolk, Virginia).

It does offer wireless download speeds of up to 144 kilobits per second (kbps). The actual speed will typically be less than this, though Verizon does not state what speed is to be expected. In the world of consumer Internet, 144kbps is pretty respectable. The typical analog modem operates at 56kbps. Cable modems and DSL are a bit faster, typically operating around 300kbps (some do go higher than 1000kbps). 

However, in the wireless world, 144kbps is a speed demon. Verizon offered a different wireless service at 19kbps. A Sprint PCS phone used as a digital modem, connect at 14kbps. The only other high-speed wireless network, Ricochet (now owned by Aerie) operated between 128kbps and 175kbps, before the networks were shut down due to bankruptcy.

While the speed of Verizon Express Network is impressive, the pricing plan is not. Verizon charged $40/month for their 19kbps network, but allowing unlimited usage. Ricochet networks were typically $80/month for unlimited usage. Verizon Express Network is a $30/month additional charge over an existing Verizon voice plan (at least $35/month). 

The new Verizon Express Network uses the same billing model as Sprint PCS, they bill you by the minute. Time spent on the Express Network is billed against the voice minutes, whether or not you’re actually sending any data over the network. If you spend 30 minutes browsing a website, you just spend 30 minutes of your airtime, even though only a couple of minutes of that actually involved downloading information.

To access the Verizon Express Network, you either need a Sierra Wireless AirCard® 555 PC card or a Kyocera 2235 portable phone with a PC connectivity kit. Either way, you connect your laptop (or certain PDAs), and use the provided software to connect and disconnect. Since the Express Network requires a voice plan, you can even hook a headset up to the AirCard and use it as a phone.

If high-speed wireless access is a must, and you can’t wait for a Ricochet network to reopen in your area, then this is currently your only choice. Other wireless companies are working to provide new 3G services, but specific offerings and availability are difficult to predict. If you just want wireless access for instant messaging and email, then you should wait on 3G services, as many other more affordable and practical options exist. - Copyright 2002 - Email us at
The views and opinions expressed on Clashion are those of the author, and do not
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