The digital nirvana of a wireless world awaits everyone

Joining the communications revolution is cheaper than you think, says Iain S Bruce
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The Independent Online

One click and you're out there; surfing the infinite reaches of cyberspace with practiced ease any place, any time.

One click and you're out there; surfing the infinite reaches of cyberspace with practiced ease any place, any time.

Welcome, citizens, to a world without wires, a digital nirvana where the extremities of human knowledge, news and entertainment are available at your fingertips whenever or wherever you are.

Wherever you look these days, people seem to be embracing the communications revolution with increasing fervour. Connecting to the web, answering emails and sending instant messages to their friends everywhere from speeding trains to strolling saloon bars, the beeps, clicks and taps emitting from a bewildering range of gadgets and gizmos appear to be providing the soundtrack for technology's relentless advance.

The world is unwiring, and so, perhaps, should you. The range of options and methods available for connecting to the global information network on the move is becoming increasingly competitive and affordable and best of all, it's not as difficult as it might seem.

Amongst the easiest, fastest and best established tools available for the job is the BlackBerry, a device the United States has found so addictive that it's been nicknamed the "Crackberry". A slim unit about the same size as a standard mobile phone, it enables the user to access their email, surf the web, browse through their contacts list, make calls and record voice memos at the touch of a button. Purchased from a mobile network provider, it works straight out of the box and could be set up by any higher primate within 10 minutes.

There are two basic BlackBerry versions on offer. The basic 7230 model has a retail price tag of £179.99, but this can be substantially reduced depending on the monthly tariff, which regulates the amount of time you actually spend online. On T-Mobile 100 minutes of surfing requires a monthly subscription of £19, but that gets you the actual machine for a mere £49.99, while stumping up £29 a month will get you 200 minutes surfing and a free BlackBerry to do it on. If bought through Carphone Warehouse, the same model is available free when you sign up for a monthly stipend of £25.

The latest version of the BlackBerry is the 7100v, which is sleeker, lighter, faster and comes in a trendy silver finish. Only available in the UK through Vodafone, a range of pricing options are available but until you know exactly what you're going to use it for and for how long, possibly the best option would be to go in at the bottom and plump for a £82.50 purchase price with a monthly charge of £15.75. If you're keen, then a subscription rate of £38.30 will get you 200 inclusive surfing minutes and a shiny new gadget at the knockdown price of £41.25.

Of course, if you're going to get an email device that also makes mobile phone calls, you might well want to consider opting instead for a mobile handset that just happens to pick up email as well. Possibly the best buy in this category is the Siemens SK65, a stylish unit that comes complete with a large colour screen and BlackBerry technology built in. Due to come into the stores this month, it has a full qwerty keyboard that swivels out from the phone's rear, making typing something of a breeze. The official retail price is expected to be in the region of £350, but, as always, shopping around the various tariff deals available should allow you to snap it up for a fraction of this price.

There are numerous smart phones such as this available. Orange's SPV C500 unit (£79.99) and the Sony Ericsson P910i (£499.99) represent solid examples from each end of the price range, both including a variety of organiser functions, games and a video camera for picture messaging. They are also shipped with Bluetooth - a wireless technology - and are therefore compatible with most similarly equipped PDAs, laptops and accessories.

The next option on the wireless technology ladder is offered by Wi-Fi, known by geeks around the world as 802.11g. In a nutshell, this allows a vast range of devices to connect to networks by radio signals, meaning that you can log onto the internet from your loo, the garden or any other area where such services are available.

Taking BT's product offerings as a benchmark, installing a complete wireless network at home requires a broadband connection (£26.99 per month), a Voyager 2100 wireless hub (£89.99), a PC adapter card (£29.99) and a Laptop adaptor card (£39.99). This would give all the functionality you'd ever need, allowing you to connect your laptop to the main computer from anywhere within about 20 metres. PC World is currently running deals to give away all three pieces of kit for a reduced price.

There are plenty of alternatives. The NetGear DG834G combines many products in one for £145.70, serving as an ADSL modem, Wi-Fi router and firewall all in one. Belkin.com also supplies a range of highly efficient and affordable alternatives and provides a handy wireless wizard on its website that is designed to guide the newcomer through the process of selecting and setting up such a network painlessly.

Once you've got your laptop all wirelessed up, there's a brave new world waiting out there, with instant internet access available at the click of a button in an ever increasing range of locations. BT Openzone allows anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device to send and receive large quantities of information at broadband speed. Under a recent agreement between BT and T-Mobile, users now have access to over 10,000 hotspots worldwide in locations such as Starbucks, British Airways lounges, Texaco petrol stations, McDonald's restaurants and hotel chains such as Sheraton, Hilton and Ramada Jarvis.

The BT service is available for a monthly subscription of £25, which allows for 4000 minutes of use and it is also possible to purchase daily or monthly access options for £10 and £40, respectively. Competing packages are beginning to appear on the market at an increasing rate however, so expect prices to start tumbling soon. If you're not bothered about having Wi-Fi at home but do want to use it when out and about, for laptop users the best option has to be one of the available PCMIA data cards, which pop into the credit card sized slot in the side of your machine.

Orange offer such a widget for £149.99 and will charge you from £11.75 a month for 7MB of downloads to £23.50 for 65MB. If opting for Vodafone's equivalent the unit comes in at the same price, but offers an extra 10MB of downloads for the money. Both services are 3G, meaning they offer close to broadband speed, are easy to set up and work in most areas of the country. Similar services are available for use with handheld PDA devices. There are a huge range available, like HP's ConnectAnywhere, which delivers information to a wide range of client devices including Laptops. PDA and mobile phones, and uses GPRS, 3G and any available wireless network to receive the information.

According to the company, the cost can be as little as £1.70 per user per day, but for the casual browser, it would be better to simply buy a personal organiser with Wi-Fi built in, then subscribe to a hotspot service such as BT's Openzone.

'I'd pay double for my BlackBerry'

As a one-woman design and project management company, Hannah Fox already knew that staying in touch with her business was imperative. She mulled over buying a BlackBerry for months and had all the facts at her fingertips, but nothing had prepared her for the way it would change her world.

"BlackBerry has transformed my life and the way I do business. I am no longer tied to my office computer and I have the flexibility to work while I travel to meetings," she says. "I don't have to worry about what I might be missing while I'm out of the office anymore, and if an important email comes in I can respond instantly, regardless of where I am."

Fox now regards the BlackBerry as her Swiss Army knife for the digital age, a mobile office. "While travelling in the Lake District recently, I received a new business lead on email and despite the fact that I was standing in a field, I was able to respond to the prospect immediately with detailed information," she says. "As a result Fox Design secured a great new project, it wouldn't have happened without the technology at hand."

Now an experienced and self-confessed "CrackBerry addict", Fox claims that the device justifies her outlay. "Now I'd probably pay double if I needed too. Once you've got over the embarrassment of using it in public you'll never look back."

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