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Wireless for really remote folks

Possible solutions for remote workers who are really in the boondocks.

If you have remote workers -- those who work at their homes some of most of the time, only infrequently coming into the office -- then you want them to share company information resources to the extent that's appropriate. That means you'll have to getthem onto the Internet with a broadband connection, and, for most, cable and DSL are the media of choice. But there are some who are so remote that these media are not available, and you might want to use a wireless connection. What then? Our expert, Tim Scannell, addressed just this question recently. Here's the question-and-answer pair.

Q: "How can VSAT be used for Internet connectivity? How efficient is it compared to other means of Internet connection?"

Tim Scannell: "Hmmm...I can see why you'd be at sea with this question, since VSAT -- which stands for Very Small Aperture Terminals -- is satellite-based wireless communications technology that is designed for use by people who are located in remote locations, or perhaps somewhere in the middle of the ocean where there isn't a cell tower or wireless access point for miles. VSAT technology is, in fact, used quite extensively by extreme field service workers, such as utility people located on distant oilrigs, or service SWAT teams somewhere in the middle of the desert. These systems are also used by the military, to provide limited communications to tactical forces. Some banks also use them to zap information around the globe.

"It is an effective remote communications and connectivity alternative, but obviously not for the vast majority of Internet cruisers since it is expensive and can be comparatively slow as compared with cable and DSL connections. A far less expensive alternative would be cellular-based connections, since you wouldn't have to deal with the specialized routers, necessary signal accelerators and amplifier, and the expensive satellite link time. Then again, if Tom Hanks had access to such a system when he was stranded on that island with an unopened FedEx package and Wilson the basketball, it world have made for a very quick rescue and short movie."

So there you have it. You have essentially two options. VSAT (available through such providers as DirectPC), or cellular connections, will help out with those really remote people. It's a good bet, however, that workers so remote that they cannot get a cable connection at this time probably can't get a cellular connection either.

But don't forget the caveat that Scannell pointed out loud and clear. This kind of connection is expensive, compared with a cable modem connection. Just as an anecdotal example, I connect to the Internet from my home office with a cable modem. Because I also get my television over the cable, the monthly fee for the connection is $44.95, which is $5.00 off the regular price. The cable modem cost is included in the monthly fees, and I installed the modem myself.

A quick check on DirectPC's Web site shows two plans for access. One requires $99.99 up front cost, and $99.99 per month. So after the first month's service you're $155 (rounded off) over the cost of the cable modem. The satellite system requires a one-year contract, so at the end of the year, you will be $1255 in the hole with satellite compared with my cable system. The second plan requires that you buy the hardware, and if you do that, you spend $480 for hardware and installation, while still needing to pay that $100/month. Connection speed for download is listed at "up to 500K" (kbps, one would assume) but upload is only up to 50 kbps. A speed test on my cable connection gave a result of over 7,000 kbps. And don't forget that you need a clear view of the southern sky, which may not be available.

Further, one staffer at TechTarget, the parent of searchMobileComputing.com, says his satellite connection is, "unreliable (slows down or stops working every other day, and every time it rains), has a several second delay after every click (which greatly slows down fast web surfing), and upload speeds are even worse than modems."

A cell phone connection, assuming that coverage is available in your remote worker's area, could be a better deal, if your remote worker moves around a lot. My cell phone costs me about $30/month, and I have lots of free minutes for that price. Cellular modems are available from a number of vendors. A quick search on Computer Discount Warehouse shows modems available for prices ranging from about $90 to about $160. Then, of course, you'd have to have a good cellular plan for the worker, and the speed is limited to about the speed of dial-up. So if your remote worker stays put most of the time, and cable or DSL are not available, dial-up, slow as it is, may be a better alternative than a cellular connection.


David Gabel is the executive technology editor of TechTarget.


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Ideal. Relatively inexpensive for business and comfortable for end-users who want to use it. But backward thinking has made living "off-the-grid" illegal in places like Florida and Texas. Not "frowned on" or merely "disliked" but actually illegal, with SWAT teams enforcing adherence.

As wireless fits into smaller and smaller spaces and Big Business controlled governments demanding its use, places like Walden Pond, real or metaphorical, are being forced to disconnect from nature and pay for the the grid. The thought is terrifying.
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