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Dan Tynan
Hooked on memes

Gadget freak Dan Tynan reports on a few days enforced abstinence from Broadband. (This story first appeared in PCWorld and is reproduced with permission of the author): WE WERE SITTING in a charming little pub in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland. As the band cranked through bad covers of American pop tunes, we sipped Guinness, checked e-mail on our laptops, made cheap Skype calls to friends halfway around the world, and IM-ed with reckless abandon. We had discovered Web nirvana.

When we visited Ireland last fall, we knew we’d find beautiful countryside, friendly people, and fine beer. The question was whether we’d be able to bring our Internet lifestyle along for the ride. Unfortunately, our experience at the pub was the exception, not the rule. Even in high-tech meccas (and Ireland is rapidly becoming one), the Internet isn’t always easy to find-and when you do, it ain’t cheap.

ROAMIN’ LEGIONS

IN THE UNITED STATES, wireless hotspots are common and many are free. Overseas, we learned that merely using the term “Wi-Fi” can get you tagged as a crazy American, and open networks were harder to find than leprechauns.

The most common Irish hotspots are operated by British Telecom’s BTzone. For $6 an hour (or $12 for 24 hours) you get a card containing a user ID and a password for logging on to the network. But the connections were often slow. Jonesing for my favorite HBO shows, I tried to access my TiVo via the Net using the Slingbox AV ($180, www.slingmedia . com), but the picture was too jumpy.

Out of curiosity, I also wandered around quaint little villages clicking my thumb-drive Linksys Wi-Fi Finder ($79, www.linksys.com ), looking for unsecured home networks (and cementing my reputation as a crazy American). I found only one, in the heart of Galway. Even the thankfully few McDonald’s and Starbucks outlets lacked the Wi-Fi nets that you will often come across in the States.

Our other wireless option, cell net works, proved challenging in different ways. If your carrier has an international roaming plan and you own a GSM phone, you can use your handset to make calls across the pond. (Otherwise, your best recourse is to buy a cheap phone over there and chuck it before you return.) And many cell phones can connect to your laptop and work as a modem. The downside? Slow speeds and high costs.

For example, I hooked a Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile phone ($150 with a two-year plan, www.cingular.com/3125 ) to my notebook and connected via Cingular’s GPRS network (230 kbps maximum speed). But with roaming charges of 99 cents per minute, the cost would quickly send me to the poorhouse. Roaming charges and access to data networks vary widely by country, but the service is never cheap, so we reserved the cell phone modem strictly for emergencies. If you think you’ll have to use this type of service, make sure to set your e-mail client/ server to hold large messages and try to visit sites specially designed for handhelds to curb your costs.

GETTING CARDED

Gadget Freak Dan Tyrian reports on his days of enforced abstinence from an acceptable broadband connection. (This story first appeared in PC World and is reproduced with the permission of the magazine):

IF WE’D BEEN traveling for more than a few weeks, I’d have opted for a wireless access card with a data plan (most likely from one of the European mobile operators to avoid onerous roaming charges). Major U.S. carriers sell wireless cards for around $50 with a two-year plan; unlimited data plans range from $50 to $80 a month. But beware of how some carriers define “unlimited.” For example, Verizon Wireless’s plan ( www.verizonwireless . com/bba) prohibits streaming audio or video, using Webcams, accessing peer-to-peer networks, and downloading more than 5GB of data per month. Read the fine print before signing up.

More often than not we found ourselves in crowded Internet cafes, paying $4 to $8 an hour for spotty connections on aging terminals. Still, as 3G cell networks and metro-area WiMax spread, eventually we’ll all be enveloped by a cloud of seamless high-speed connectivity. Not this year or even the next, but someday. I’ll drink to that.

Dan is the author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O’Reilly Media, 2005). You can send him e-mail at gadgetfreak@pcworld.com

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