Got the PC, got the portable, now how do I mobilise my data?

With more and more people owning both a mobile phone and a portable computer, mobile data is beginning to take off. But how easy is it really to equip yourself to become a 21st-century data road warrior?

I own a computer and a mobile phone. What else do I need in order to use my equipment to send and receive data?

All you need is a data card which slots into your notebook and a small cable to connect it to your mobile phone. You will also need some communication software if you don't already have any.

What do you mean, 'a card that slots into a computer'?

Most portable computers have what is called a PCMCIA or PC Card slot. This is a slot which will take a credit card-sized device. The mobile phone data cards use this slot.

Is a data card the same as a modem?

No. A modem converts digital data into analogue sounds so they can pass through the conventional telephone system. The GSM and PCN phone networks are digital systems so they would not be able to understand the noises the modem uses to signal with.

How much are these data cards?

They are still quite expensive, around pounds 300-pounds 400.

Are some computers better than others?

No. The actual data communication makes very few demands upon the computer. But getting the right phone is vital.

How so?

Older analogue phones are not very good for mobile data. They are very slow and not very reliable. The newer digital phones, that is GSM phones and the PCN phones - Orange and One2One, are much better. But even here there are differences: some are much faster than others., while some will not pass on data at all

What is the difference in speed between these phones?

The fastest digital phones are rated to send and receive data at 9,600 bits per second but some, even quite new phones, only work at 2,400 bits per second.

That's not very fast. Don't ordinary modems go up to 28.8

thousand bits per second?

Yes, it is quite slow, but data cards are now being introduced with data compression. This means that although data is only sent at 9,600 bits per second, by clever mathematical tricks it can appear to be send a lot faster.

OK. So I've got my data set up - what can I do with it?

Well, you can send and receive e-mail and faxes and connect to online services or your office's network. You can get weather reports from services like Compuserve and AOL. You can check your diary in the office and arrange meetings with colleagues over your company's network.

So do I need to make special arrangements with my mobile phone supplier?

If your phone is on the Vodafone network then, theoretically, you do not need to contact them to make data calls. With the other networks you have to contact them before you can send or receive data. Even if you are with Vodafone it is worth contacting them because, to receive data or faxes, you need special separate telephone numbers.

Does that mean that I will end up with three telephone numbers?

Yes, that's right. One for your voice calls, one for data and the other for incoming faxes. But don't worry - few people receive data calls, although it can be helpful to receive faxes out of the office.

Can you receive faxes and data while you are physically moving - in a car, for example?

Yes, if the signal is strong you should have no problem receiving data, although you might find the connection a bit slower. But if the signal is good you should be OK even at high speeds.

Can I take my data card and phone and so on with me when I travel abroad ?

Well, with GSM phones you can now "roam", that is, use your phone, in around 40 countries. In many of those you can also send faxes and data messages and in about half you can also receive faxes and data calls. Check with your service provider to see what data facilities there are in the country you are travelling to. But don't forget your service provider will often require you to leave a fairly substantial deposit before you are able to use your phone overseas. For PCN phone users, there are for the moment very few places that you can use your phone overseas.

Mobile phones are getting smaller and smaller. Is there a way of doing mobile data without lugging a big notebook computer with me?

One or two companies, including Nokia, are introducing devices that allow you to send and receive data on pocket-size devices. You can also use handheld computers such as the Psion organiser to send and receive e-mail. It seems certain that in 10 years' time we will be carrying communication devices with us that will send and receive data very simply.

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