The Wireless that Wi-Fi Promised
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 / Networking
I was thrilled when Apple announced its Airport Wi-Fi hardware. Like many others, I envisioned walking down the street with my iBook constantly connected to the Internet. We all soon found out how difficult that was, at least without buying a cup of coffee. A small culture was born from people driving through neighborhoods looking for Open (Without a password) wireless access points. This scavenger hunt was not the wireless network we had envisioned. That dream connectivity came many years after Wi-Fi, and it is called EVDO.
EVDO is short for Evolution-Date Optimized, which like all too many acronyms used these days tells you nothing about the service. This is unfortunate, because Verizon Wireless has made EVDO technology extremely accessible to all levels of computer user. Verizon has made true wireless broadband available. What Verizon offers with its EVDO service is computer access to the high-speed data network that their phones use for streaming video content and text messaging. The most astonishing thing is that it is not dialup speed, but DSL speeds of up to 2 Mbps. Actual speeds vary considerably as you drive down the Interstate, but you will stay connected. Your signal is handed off from one cell tower to the next. That’s the genius of this. Your Internet connection is going through the cell phone network that’s already in most places you are traveling.
People often think of mobile Internet access as being in the realm of road-weary business people. The irony is that once upon a time, cell phones also had this image of being for business only. Now nearly everyone is enjoying the benefits of cell phones. And again it’s a cell phone company bringing this new service to our lives. Yes, at first it was mainly for traveling business people, but that’s been changing fast. It makes sense, for example, for any working parent who has to squeeze work and a child’s extracurricular activities together. We have many idle moments in our day, time spent waiting. Verizon’s EVDO service offers us the ability to collect those idle moments and put them to productive use.
If EVDO sounds good to you, then there are a few more things you need to know as a Mac user before you sign up. The first is do not go and try to buy this service and hardware directly from Verizon. Regrettably, the training of Verizon’s staff has not included Mac information. Many users have reported being sold inappropriate hardware or turned away altogether for being Mac users. I always appreciate a Mac-friendly company and because you can buy the same Verizon service from anywhere, I recommend ordering your EVDO service from EVDOinfo.com. They will offer the support and expertise of actual Mac users when it comes to EVDO.
To use the mobility of Verizon’s EVDO service you will need to own a 15″ or 17″ PowerBook running OS X 10.3.x or higher. This is because you need to install a PC card into the PCMCIA slot on your PowerBook. 12″ PowerBooks and iBooks do not have a PCMCIA slot, so for now you’re out of luck. If you just need to use this service at home, you can buy an EVDO router that will pickup the Verizon network and convert it to Wi-Fi, but that’s not a mobile option.
The current Mac compatible card is the Kyocera KPC-650. In Mac OS version 10.3.5, Apple included built-in support for the PC5220 EVDO card, but later PC5220 firmware changes have broken that support, and the cards are hard to find. The Kyocera is a well-liked card and now ships with Mac “VZAccess” software and drivers in the package. After you install the drivers and insert the card, you just need to activate your card and update PRL. The Preferred Roaming List (PRL) is a directory of all the cell towers you can connect to. This list will need to be updated every few months so you can use new cell towers in your area.
Once installed, there will be a new network “location” which will let you switch to the Verizon EVDO network from your main home network. You will need to launch the VZAccess application when you want to connect. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s only one extra step and it will prevent you from connecting unintentionally. This is important for anyone who is not using an unlimited minute plan. An added benefit of the KPC-650 is that it will work as your Wi-Fi card as well. Cell Phones and Wi-Fi both use 2.4 Ghz radios, so the KPC-650 will see both signals and let you chose which one to use. This is a great feature for PowerBook users who don’t have Airport Cards installed.
Much like early cell phone phones, EVDO is not thought of as a consumer product. Advertising and the news media represent this as a business tool. I see it as being something else. Five years back people would talk about the “last mile” of the Internet as being a boundary. They were talking about getting high-speed Internet connections to people’s homes and how DSL and cable were going to solve that problem. However, it looks to me as though EVDO is the true solution to the “last mile” problem. The mistake before was thinking that the “last mile” was to a building, but it really should be to a person… and people move. Now, the Internet can come to you; you don’t have to come to the Internet.