Digital World: Stuck on the side of the road, sans Internet

Digital World Stuck on

Sometimes the best-laid plans of mice, men and the bus company go awry. And they always seem to go awry just when you have important online business to conduct. In a world where being connected at all times is increasingly a necessity, not just a luxury, you need a backup plan. If you're stuck in town, you can always sit down, have a cup of coffee and get connected to the Internet via the coffee shop's (hopefully still free) Wi-Fi connection. That works, of course, if you're lucky enough to be in a vehicle that breaks down near the restaurant district. But let's say your bus or car gives up the ghost on the way to Eilat - far from any Wi-Fi connections - and your replacement transportation is hours away. Meanwhile, you're stuck on the side of the road and you've got reports to file, virtual meetings to attend or work on the server you've got to get done. Whaddaya gonna do now? It's especially galling - and frustrating - to be in a situation where you actually have time to get stuff done uninterrupted, but no way to get that work done because you can't connect to the Internet. But to the rescue come the cellphone service providers, who will allow you to use their cellular network for your Internet needs - for a price. If you've recently acquired a new phone from an Israeli cellphone service provider and/or signed up for a new talk/SMS package, chances are you were offered an opportunity to receive a cellular modem for your laptop, which you can use to connect to the Internet using the cellphone company's 3G Internet connection. If your job really requires you to connect to the Internet at the drop of a hat, anytime and anywhere, a cellphone modem could be just what you need in the way of "Internet insurance." If this sounds like something you could use, the service reps at your local friendly cellphone service provider will be happy to hook you up (unless you're with Orange, where, based on the three phone calls I had to make in order to get answers, information on cell-modem surfing packages is a well-kept secret). In order to surf the net, you need two things: a modem (or other communication method, as will be described below) and an Internet package. Most 3G phones come with such packages; for example, the basic one at Orange is NIS 21 a month, and when you sign up for the package, you'll hear something like, "You get 3 GB of connection a month" (measured in data transfer). It sounds like a lot, and it is. But the catch is that the 3 GB must be used only within the Orange network, i.e., on the sites they offer via their portal ("My Orange," "Orange Time," "Orange News," etc.). Once you leave the portal, though (to read, say, The New York Times online), you're not connecting via your 3 GB of portal Internet data allocation, but through the much more limited "external connection" allocation, which in the basic package, comes out to 30 MB of data transfer. That's not going to get you very far in the data world: it might be good for a couple of hours but not much more. But for insurance purposes, 30 MB might be sufficient. But then there's the issue of the modem itself - and the cost. Orange offers three cell modems, one of which is priced way out of my league. The other two can be had for NIS 14 and NIS 19 per month respectively, paid over a period of 36 months (total NIS 504 or NIS 684). You get that money refunded, though, if you sign up for one of Orange's "expanded" data plans: 5 GB of data connection for NIS 81 a month, or 20 GB for NIS 117. In addition, you have to commit to the plan for at least 18 months. And, if you stick with the basic package (or the medium one, which gives you 150 MB of data connection for NIS 40 a month), you have to pay for the modem - or supply one yourself. Sounds expensive! There are ways to cut costs, though. There are many Web sites that will tell you how to turn your Bluetooth-equipped cellphone into a modem - the advantage being that you can connect your laptop without a modem. But having used several phones in this manner, I can tell you that it's often a complicated process, really not for the average phone user who just wants a little insurance against worst-case scenarios. There is another way, though; for €15 (about NIS 75), you can download and install a great program called JoikuSpot Premium (> ), a piece of software that acts as a "soft" modem and lets you easily use your phone to connect a laptop to the Internet. In fact, you can connect two or three laptops to the Internet using JoikuSpot, which lets you provide insurance not just for your laptop but for the laptops of friends and colleagues who had the bad luck to get stuck in the car with you! The reason JoikuSpot is easier (on your computer, and on you, because it's easier to set up) is because it translates your phone's 3G Internet connection into plain old Wi-Fi, making connecting a laptop to the phone modem a matter of choosing a Wi-Fi connection from the list your laptop usually presents you with. You can create a secure (password) connection with JoikuSpot, or even open a VPN pipe to a corporate server. You can change the name of the network, choose any (or no) landing page and automatically drop down to a 2G connection if and when your 3G network runs out of gas (of course, the connection will be much slower). As an insurance policy, it's a lot cheaper (and more versatile) than buying a modem, and you don't have to commit to 18 months of 5 GB or 20 GB Internet to get a free modem. So, the next time Ol' Betsy starts smoking, don't panic: pull over to the side of the road, call your service company for a tow, and make the most of your time doing some productive work - thanks to JoikuSpot!