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|| News Item: Posted 2002-10-01

The Wireless Way
By Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by

Kyocera 2235 cell phone
Today the high-speed wireless Ricochet network is like a shirtless heart-attack victim on the gurney. You want to cringe every time the doctor yells "CLEAR!" and shocks the patient's flabby chest with yet another burst of high voltage.

Oh, we loved Ricochet, but time is running out on Aerie Networks' attempt to bring Ricochet back on-line. By the time Ricochet regains consciousness, photographers may have fallen in love with somebody else. One possible suitor? Verizon's Express Network.

A year ago, the next big thing was going to be 3G cellular phones. But when the wireless companies introduced the "big in Japan" technology, they also brought along the Japanese pricing model. Pay by the kilobyte. On AT&T's 3G service it would cost you about seven dollars to transmit a single photograph. And while one photographer from a large American newspaper told me his paper would be glad to pay those rates…I never believed him.

Ricochet offline, 3G too expensive, and Project Rainbow's planned national Wi-Fi network still off in the murky future. What was a photographer to do? That's right, you still tried transmitting your photos over a pre-Cambrian Age 14.4k cellular connection. I just couldn't bring myself to do it and spent my evenings at home crying into a pillow. Luckily, under my bed was an Airport base station and my photos were transmitting at high speed.

But recently Verizon changed the rules of the 3G game. While still offering "per-megabyte" plans, they have rolled out new "per-minute" plans on their 3G cellular system, the Express Network. What's more, they've also come out with an unlimited usage plan.

While it sure ain't perfect, it's worth looking into for anyone who is interested in transmitting from the soccer field. And I do mean "from the field." With this service, there is no need to walk up the stairs to the press box. You can send from the grass. Two weeks of trial use has proven the system invaluable to me, even with a few hiccups.

The Kyocera 2235 phone and Mobile Office kit (the laptop to phone cord) can be had for about $130. Photographers have reported success with PowerBook and Kyocera phones, one even going so far as to post the drivers on Rob Galbraith's wireless message board.

I found that the slick Samsung 310 works fine with a Mac running OS 10.2 without any drivers (I'm using the Sony CDMA modem script until a Samsung script is available).

For PC users, the Sierra wireless card modem looks awesome at around $299. Mac drivers don't currently exist for the Sierra.

The freedom to get on-line from anywhere is an amazing feeling. Clocking the connection on , I have been hitting speeds between 40k and 140k. There seemed to be no predictability to the speed of connection, and it varied even when repeatedly tested during the same connection. From ringside at an amateur boxing match, 500k photos were moving at an average of twenty seconds. There's nothing like being able to send a photo of "Will the Wonder Boy" back to the office while the blood he left on the mat is still wet!

There have been some hitches. While the phone connects to the Internet almost instantly (2-3 seconds), it will occasionally disconnect and then re-connect. When it does this in the middle of an upload, the transfer continues without incident but it is disconcerting.

Another inconvenience is the lack of an SMTP mail server on Verizon's end. This means you can receive e-mail, but in order to send any you need to use a web-based account such as Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. I got around this by signing up for a Hotmail account, which my e-mail program (Entourage) can control without much hassle.

Another problem I've had is getting correct, decisive answers about the plans, phones, and fees from the various Verizon salespeople and technical support staff I have talked with. Many didn't even know about the per-minute pricing plans until I pointed them out.

It took me a series of calls before I could finally comprehend how they charged for data/voice (I'll detail it as best I can in the next paragraph). When I went in to get my phone, the salesperson said, "Sorry, I'm used to only seeing doctors and lawyers coming in for this stuff."

If you're going to use the Express Network as your data and voice phone, prepare yourself by digging out some cellular phone bills from 1995. It ain't cheap. The two cheapest plans are $35 for 150 minutes and $55 for 400 minutes. If you go over your allotted time, minutes are around 35 cents extra.

If you already have a Verizon voice plan, keeping your cheap voice minutes and adding the Express Network isn't really practical. It requires you to add the $99/month unlimited plan. That's right, add $99 every month to your current bill. I know, you're thinking you'll just get that $99/month unlimited access plan and use it for voice as well, right? Wrong. If you have the unlimited access plan by itself, voice calls are an extra 69 cents a minute. Damn! Is that all confusing or what? If you need it clarified, make about twelve calls to Verizon and I promise it will all become clear.

If you're at a paper that can't afford getting everyone a phone, a phone with the unlimited plan would provide a great addition to the equipment pool. Just tape a huge "NO VOICE CALLS" note on it so you don't bankrupt the place.

Earlier this year, the Express Network was on-line in just two markets. It's seems to have spread like West Nile. Today, it's available in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maryland/DC, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Portland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tennessee, Texas, Salt Lake City, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Las Vegas, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Nationwide coverage seems to be only a matter of time. Since there are no roaming charges, so you're good to take it with you.

The Express Network clearly won't fit into everyone's budget or needs. It provides an excellent, fairly quick method to transmit from a wide range of locations. In time, the system will grow and prices will drop. Drawbacks aside, this may be the best thing going until technology marches forward once again.

(Trent Nelson, Chief Photographer for The Salt Lake Tribune can be bugged at He will be teaching a breakout session on "Digital Work Flow, Tips & Tricks and the upcoming Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau.)

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What do you do when software testing loses it's luster?? Make my hobby, my job!! ::..