Seven weeks spent moving across two offices have taught me that the Internet is less accessory and more necessity. I thought I knew that...
Seven weeks spent moving across two offices have taught me that the Internet is less accessory and more necessity. I thought I knew that, but only a switch in space — and access — made it clear how much I relied on casual searches and Web-site access in my daily routine.
I’ve been using the Internet and its predecessors in one form or another since 1986. I had a high-speed T1 line from the phone company in my house in 1994, and one of the early Seattle DSL lines in 1997. You’d think I’d understand this.
I’m not alone: In the Seattle area alone, judging by for-rent signs, real-estate statistics and craigslist postings, hundreds of small businesses and thousands of employees and freelancers go through moving transitions every month.
From late June, when my shared Greenwood office lease expired, to early August, when I was fully moved into a lovely new space in Fremont, I played catch-as-catch-can with the Internet.
I found myself in my home basement writing madly on July 4 for one deadline, and relying on a 9.6 kilobit per second (Kbps) connection — 1/300th my home connection’s speed — for nearly a week.
What did I learn? Flexibility in the hunt for interim access.
Bigger Wi-Fi antenna: My office computer is a desktop Macintosh, and it uses Apple Computer’s built-in antenna, which is only adequate in a small office.
You can get work done during an office move or between offices.
Try a coffee shop: Some cafes reluctantly offer Wi-Fi service with limits; others welcome business users who spend hours during off times, typically 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find a free location and buy lots of coffee, or a for-fee service with a monthly unlimited plan or 30-day prepaid card.
Mooch, but nicely: Many of us have colleagues at other firms who might be perfectly happy to find you space for a short time either at no cost or a low cost, and let you access its Internet service.
Think library: The Seattle Public Library’s Central Library, for example, has high-speed wireless Internet throughout the year-old facility. It’s open at 10 a.m. to 6 or 8 p.m. every weekday. The King County Library System also has Wi-Fi widely available.
For a month, I rented space in the Ballard location of ActivSpace, a craftspace building with individual offices. A separate firm is testing Wi-Fi at the several ActivSpace locations around town; it’s currently available at no charge. (ActivSpace offices are pre-wired for easy phone and DSL hookup, but DSL made no sense for me for just a few weeks or months. It might have taken several days to weeks to get service connected, and it could be more costly than the limited time I needed it was worth.)
To pick up the signal at ActivSpace in the current test configuration, I needed to purchase a higher-gain antenna, one that produces more signal output and is more receptive to fainter transmissions.
Most wireless cards can accept different antennas; or, if your card can’t, you can buy one that does. HyperLinkTech.com is the source of many kinds of add-on equipment. The site is baffling, but follow the links that let you find the right antenna for the equipment you own, or contact the company to get the right part number. Adding an antenna doesn’t involve much. It’s usually as simple as unscrewing one antenna and threading on a new one.
Mac users can turn to MacWireless.com, which offers Wi-Fi equipment for all vintages of Mac, and has antennas to add on to standard Apple gear, such as the AirPort Extreme Card that’s built in or an option for all current Macs.
With a $50 whip antenna, I could pick up enough signal to get a reliable connection. But the vendor was still testing the Wi-Fi network at ActivSpace, so it wasn’t guaranteeing it would be serviceable all the time, and I had to have some other options.
Cellular data: Seattle has several cellular data networks now in operation. The slowest, run by Sprint PCS and T-Mobile USA, offer speeds comparable to dial-up modems; the fastest, from Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless, can pull hundreds of kilobits per second from the Internet down and send to the Net at upload about 50 to 100 Kbps. Verizon agreed to loan me a card using its high-speed EV-DO (evolution data-only) technology to test.
In testing within the concrete block that is ActivSpace, I was able to get speeds at the top range of EV-DO’s local offering (the technology is often referred to as 3G, for third-generation wireless technology). It was consistently fast and available. The software that Verizon offers also can manage Wi-Fi connections, allowing you to use one tool for multiple services.
Because the EV-DO PC Card only works with a Windows laptop, I used Windows Internet sharing to provide service to my Macintosh. The laptop picked up and transmitted Internet access via the EV-DO network, and then used a local Ethernet network to share access among my other computers. I could also have used Wi-Fi to share service, but the machines were next to each other and Ethernet was simpler.
Sprint plans to add its own EV-DO service, possibly driving prices down from Verizon’s $80 per month rate for unlimited access.
Cingular is expecting to start offering HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) wireless networks in the U.S., with much higher upload and download speeds, rivaling middle-speed DSL connections.
Dial-up: Dial-up is always an old friend, isn’t it? Available in a pinch, a dial-up connection means you can still carry out routine business. In fact, even with the growth of broadband in the U.S., only a slight majority uses something faster than dial-up.
Now, I didn’t have a phone line in my ActivSpace office, so I used a backup to the backup when all else failed: my cellphone. For a few dollars a month, Cingular offers what it calls Wireless Internet Access.
At a paltry 9600 bits per second — the speed of PC modems in the late 1980s — I can dial an Internet service provider and pay for the time out of my minutes pool.
I have a limited dial-up account as part of my home DSL service with Speakeasy Networks, but most people with broadband service receive a few hours or tens of hours of dial-up time as a backup. Check with your provider for details on whether this is available for when you travel, and whether it costs extra. Some providers charge a few dollars a month or a one-time fee.
New office: Ultimately, the answer lies in a new office, which I moved into in late July in Fremont. The building — mixed retail, commercial and residential — includes free Internet service in the lease.
Because I and my officemates work during the day, when most tenants are away, we’ve found this free Internet the most useful of all.