Saturday, January 10, 2009

In which I am foiled by a wireless modem

So we're talking the other day about a proposed family trip and how I'll need access to the Internet to keep current with my various projects. Do I hunt up WiFi hotspots? Track down an Internet cafe (do those still exist?)

Internet access is a constant concern. I've spent more money than I care to consider on hotel connections. In addition to my main connection at home, I pay a monthly fee for dial-up so I'm not cut off when a forest fire torches Commspeed's microwave antennas (seriously) or the pipeline squirrels are just in a bad mood.

Finally it occurs to me. Oh yeah, it's 2009. Why not get a wireless modem card and stop paying for all the other nonsense?

What a great idea. Sprint is even offering a couple of really well-reviewed models for free (except for that monthly charge, of course). Except ... have you ever tried installing one of these things?

My new don't-lose-this-in-your-change-pocket-sized Compass 597 arrived by overnight delivery. It loaded its software effortlessly. I then called Sprint for the activation code (required, presumably, so the UPS guy doesn't walk off with the widget and charge his porn surfing to my account), and ... nothing. The code doesn't work. Neither does the next one. Or the super-secret back-office codes after that. At the third level of customer service, the actual tech guy I reach concedes that the device they sent me is faulty and won't respond to the codes that are supposed to kick it into life.

"You'll have to go to a Sprint store to exchange it for a new device."

This is ... a bit of a challenge. We had a Sprint store in town, but it starved to death on the meager nourishment provided by the local economy.

"There are stores in Flagstaff and Prescott. They can take care of you at either one."

Oh joy. Flag is 50 miles up north, and Prescott is 50 miles over the mountains. Well, I have chores to run in Flag anyway. I'll go there.

So, I drive to Flagstaff, go to the Sprint store, and ...

"They sent you here? Why? We can't help you."

Ummm ... what?

"We're not a corporate store. We sell Sprint products, but we're a whole different company. We can't exchange something they sold you. Besides, we don't even stock wireless cards."

Let me digress a bit here ... The Sprint store in Flagstaff doesn't carry wireless modems? Why? Well, it's because there's not much demand. Sprint's EVDO broadband network isn't available up here (or by me, for that matter) so when you sign on using a wireless card, you get a connection no faster than dial-up service.

Oh woe is me, ya freakin' cry-babies. Unhappy because the fastest connection you can get to the Internet from the laptop in your tent in the middle of the forest is 56K?

Y'know, when I first got to northern Arizona just ten years ago, all that was available up here was dial-up, so I telecommuted over a 56K connection for a good, long time. Everybody did everything Internet-related over dial-up. But now that's not good enou--

Oh hell. Yes, I know how I sound. Now get off my lawn.

Anyway. So Sprint in Flagstaff sent me packing. I went home, called tech support, and explained just how pleased I was to be sent on a pointless 100-mile round-trip drive (I didn't dilute the message by mentioning that I had a nice lunch at the Beaver Street Brewery. Try the porter with a bowl of chipotle-ginger beef chili).

Sprint customer support has become much nicer since the last time I screamed at them, five years ago. The nice lady on the phone immediately apologized and promised to send me a new modem and compensate me for the time I've been paying for a high-tech paper weight.

The new widget is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. I'll let you know if it's worth the hassle.

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Blogger Fred said...

I believe there are wireless devices- don't know if you'd call them a modem, or not- that you just plug into a usb port. I believe I've seen them in the newspaper ads for Staples.

As for myself, I have my laptop set up so I can go online any which way. Luckily, the folks who bought me the laptop had it already set up for wireless. I also always carry about an eight foot length of phone line so I can use dial- up if wireless or DSL isn't available, along with a DSL data cable.

As far as paying for broadband on the road, most places we've been in California offer wireless or hard line DSL free. And places with hard line DSL usually have data cables installed in the rooms. At least that's been my experience.

There was one place we stayed in San Francisco fairly regularly that had wireless but you had to pay for it. It was actually AT&T Wireless and, while the hotel provided it, use of it was between AT&T and the user.

You'd turn on the laptop "radio" and you'd go to the ATT web site where you'd log in. If you weren't a regular wireless customer you had to use our credit card and pay either $10 a day, or $25 for three days use of the wireless connection.

That worked out ok but seemed pricey and, since I'm an ATT customer at home, I wondered if I shouldn't be getting a better deal. Finally I remembered to look on their web site and found that, as an existing ATT customer, for and extra $2.00 added to my monthly home phone bill, I could log on to any of the ATT wireless networks nationwide and they had a whole bunch of them, including McDonald's restaurants and the hotel we'd been staying at.

I was happy as heck over that deal, except we ended up not staying at that hotel anymore and all the places we normally stay now offer free wireless or dsl. One of these days I have to decide whether to keep paying that $2.00, or unsubscribe.

January 11, 2009 7:00 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

That's what I have -- a USB wireless broadband card. I've tried relying on complimentary hotel Internet access, but every place I've stayed this past year has charged. And I occasionally run into tech problems signing onto new networks while deleting old ones. *If* the wireless modem works (a big "if" now, though I know people who love them) it could avoid a lot of hassles.

January 11, 2009 7:34 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

Wow. Arizona must be a lot different than California in that regards. More and more places around here advertise their free wireless or DSL. New ones pop up every day, or so it seems.

I've also noticed even in residential areas there's more and more wireless networks popping up. Just by accident I was fooling with my laptop sitting here at home and found somebody nearby with a wireless network. I connected right away.

I think it's the group type home across the street. I prefer my hard line dsl connection, but it's nice to know the neighbors have something I can use in an emergency- tacky and insecure as connecting to their network would be.

January 11, 2009 8:36 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

I might just be having bad luck, but I've been hit with hotel Internet charges in Arizona and California (and D.C.).

At home, there just isn't much to pick from in terms of stray WiFi because this area is so thinly settled.

January 11, 2009 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred - Be careful. In many areas legislators without technical savvy have made it a "Theft of Services" crime to connect to anyone else's access point - even if they intend to share. Usually this law is a knee-jerk reaction after a case where someone used a neighbor's account to hide downloads of illegal obscene materials.

Also, many ISP's have in their fine print a prohibition against sharing. They build their outgoing 'pipelines' only so big, and they can get traffic jams if usage exceeds estimations. Your neighbors could lose their connection if the ISP finds out they failed to prevent open access.

JD - Sprint may have been the wrong choice - if you venture outside of big cities and off of major interstates, you'll lose their network. Verizon has more coverage (2x-3x Sprint's in your area per public coverage maps - YMMV), but if you switch be prepared to be treated as less than a number by VZW customer service. So far, they have the best network, so they don't have to be nice.

The places I stay in the NE, an internet connection is usually free using Wifi or data jack, but sometimes I have to move around the room a bit to stay connected wirelessly. - Tom

January 11, 2009 6:42 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

"...but I've been hit with hotel Internet charges in Arizona and California (and D.C.".

I'd suggest doing an internet search, or using one of those travel sites, to look for a place to stay that offers free internet then.

As an aside, AT&T also has dial up numbers for just about every town and city in California so, even if you can't get broadband, you can use free dial- up as long as the place you're staying doesn't charge for local calls.

January 12, 2009 7:08 AM  

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