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Connectivity

How to stay connected when you're away Add to ...

Ah, summer. Sitting on the dock at the cottage, cold beer in hand - it's just what you need to recharge your batteries and get ready for a busy autumn.

What do you mean, you can't escape because you need to answer the phone and deal with customers?

What if you could deal with those customer emergencies from the comfort of your deck chair, or while watching the meerkats at the zoo with your kids?

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You can. Each of the major mobile providers offers devices that let you seamlessly respond to business needs from wherever you happen to be. Let's have a look at a few.

Cellular modems

Starting small, let's begin with USB cellular modems. Rogers has its Rocket Stick, Bell's is the Turbo Stick, and Telus just calls its device the Mobile Internet Key.

Regardless of the name, what you get for between $150 and $200 (with no contract - some devices are free if you commit to a data plan for 3 years) is what looks suspiciously like a USB flash drive. Some even offer storage as well as connectivity, but that's just a bonus. Plug it into your computer and you're connected to the Internet over your carrier's high-speed cellular network, ready to handle customer e-mails or connect to your office server to grab a critical file.

On top of the cost of the device, you'll pay a minimum of $30 a month (for up to 500 MB of Canadian data usage); $65 gets you up to 5 GB. As always, U.S. roaming is extra, and expensive - read the fine print on your contract carefully.

Multi-device systems

If that single connection isn't enough, try one of the multi-device gadgets that shares your cellular data connection over WiFi (wireless networking; it's available on virtually every laptop today).

Bell's Turbo Hub ($399 with no contract) services up to 15 devices, including a telephone. All it needs is a power plug and cellular service. It provides both WiFi and four fast Ethernet ports for wired connections to desktop computers, plus a USB 2.0 port for shared mass storage or a print server. Data rates are up to 7.2 Mbps (receiving) and 5.76 Mbps (transmitting) - not very fast, to be sure, but infinitely better than what you can achieve over a dial-up connection.



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Rogers customers can get exactly the same device (an Ericsson W35) branded the Rocket Hub. Pricing is the same as Bell's, and like Bell, Rogers offers the Rocket hub for about $150 with a 2-year contract.

Telus has two options. Its Smart Hub ($399.99 with no contract, $149.99 with a 2-year commitment) also talks to 15 devices over WiFi, but its hardwired ports are configured for two Ethernet devices (one computer and one high-speed Internet connection) and two standard telephones.

Telus also offers a 3G+ wireless router for $70 that supports up to 20 users, but to connect to the Internet wirelessly you need a Mobile Internet Key as well. The Mobile Internet Key plugs in to the router, providing Internet service on the Telus cellular network. The router also has a standard Ethernet port that will connect to your home high speed Internet.

Whichever carrier you use, do some serious exploring of data plan offerings before you sign up. Each of the three major cellular vendors has a plan that allows for variable usage on a sliding scale - for example, Bell's Mobile Internet Flex plan charges $35 if your (Canadian) data usage is up to 500 MB, $45 for between 500 MB and 1 GB, 1 to 3 GB will set you back $60, and 3 to 5 GB is $70. Above 5 GB, add five cents per MB. Your rate will change each month, depending on usage. Telus and Rogers offer similar plans.

And that can give you the option of enjoying your friends and family while still taking care of business.

 

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