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Cell and Dial-Up Modem Updates

If there’s any question that TidBITS readers are {handsome|beautiful} and read what we write thoroughly, my mailbox from the latest issue is proof positive! Several folks wrote in to correct a few errors in my two modem pieces in last week’s issue: one on Apple’s dial-up USB modem; the other on the array of PC Card EVDO (high-speed cellular data) modems (see "Null Modem: Dial-Up for Macs?" and "Sprint Nextel Data Service Could Help Traveling Mac Users" in TidBITS-804).



Apple USB Modem — When I first wrote about the Apple USB Modem, it was available only as a build-to-order option with the new iMac G5 (iSight). Somewhere in the interval, Apple added the modem to its regular store as a stand-alone purchase. (There’s no way to link to the item, and Apple’s link on the iMac G5 page simply redirects to the store home page.) Apple now describes the Apple USB Modem as an option for the Mac mini and Power Mac G5 (both of which list an internal modem as a build-to-order item), as well as the iMac G5.

Doug Noble wrote in with two bits of wisdom about the utility of a modem: his cable broadband service went out for two weeks following Hurricane Katrina and then again ever since Hurricane Wilma touched down. He owned no dial-up modem, so he resorted to an old AirPort Base Station that contains a built-in modem.

He also pointed out that faxing requires a dial-up modem; a host of electronic faxing services exist, but for occasional use, a $50 modem can be more cost-effective than recurring monthly or per page charges.

Cellular EVDO — On the cellular EVDO front, it’s a little more complicated. I failed to mention the only third-party application designed to work with an array of cellular and Wi-Fi devices: Smith Micro’s QuickLink Mobile for Mac OS X.

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A reader who has worked in the field noted that Verizon Wireless offers direct support for the Kyocera KPC650 PC Card. This fact confused me, because when I went to Verizon Wireless’s site, that card isn’t listed as an option with their best plan, and they don’t make the software or support obvious. With help from him and Brian Dipert, who provided links, I found out why the information is so hidden. (Brian has written extensively about cell data speeds and support at his EDN site, by the way.)

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Verizon Wireless no longer promotes this Mac-supported card on the main page of their BroadbandAccess area, but it is available. If you navigate to the BroadbandAccess service at Verizon Wireless’s Web site and walk through signing up for a plan, they offer their branded PC 5740 card for $100 when you sign up for a two-year contract. The KPC650 is $180 under the same terms and third on the list. Mac users who want official support should pay the extra money. Consult Smith Micro’s support list for other options, too.

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Now where can you find the software? Nowhere so obvious as searching on "Macintosh" or "Mac OS X." Even Google didn’t find it. But if you follow the links to download software on the Verizon Wireless page, as Brian suggested, you find a list of PC Cards with two columns: one with a Windows logo, the other with an old Mac OS logo.


Amazingly, the software isn’t even on Verizon’s site, which makes the entire process even more confusing. I’m reminded of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy bit at the beginning where Arthur Dent complains that the planning documents were in a locked file cabinet in an unlit basement in a disused lavatory labeled "Beware of the Tiger." (Beware Tiger, indeed!)

Finally, my industry-connected reader emphasized the fact that Verizon Wireless disables Bluetooth dial-up networking (DUN) support in its phones. I noted this in my article in passing, but it’s worth repeating that you can’t work around a lack of PC Card driver support by using a Verizon Wireless phone in tethered mode with EVDO. (I was able to get one of Verizon Wireless’s advanced phones to make 1xRTT or about-dial-up-modem-speed calls over Bluetooth, however.)

Terms of Servitude — And post-penultimately, let me note that some hilarious reading may be found in Verizon Wireless’s terms of service for using BroadbandAccess, its EVDO service.

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After stating what the service may be used for – "Internet," not "Web," browsing, email, and intranet applications – they go on to state:

"Unlimited NationalAccess/BroadbandAccess services cannot be used (1) for uploading, downloading or streaming of movies, music or games, (2) with server devices or with host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, Voice over IP (VoIP), automated machine-to-machine connections, or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, or (3) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. "

Why do I find this amusing? Because so many folks have been telling me for the last year that EVDO will replace Wi-Fi even though it’s a bit slower because each user gets a dedicated data stream at a given speed. Two fallacies there.

First, Wi-Fi is a choice: Once you have Wi-Fi, you can use hundreds or thousands of different networks. If you find one network has policies you don’t like or not enough speed, you switch. This could mean moving from one coffeeshop to another, or switching from T-Mobile HotSpot to SBC FreedomLink for national access. The terms of service for Wi-Fi hotspots can be restrictive, but I haven’t seen any that disallow video, streaming, VoIP, and other common applications.

Second, the cellular modems have to backhaul data from central points: the cellular towers on which the EVDO or HSDPA equipment lives. I have been told by several folks in the industry in the last couple of months that the backhaul from even many of the urban cell towers isn’t enough to handle lots of 3G cell users. Part of the billions of dollars being put into 3G is upgrading that infrastructure, not just putting up new base stations to handle customers. That’s one reason Verizon Wireless and others have to restrict what kinds of services are used.

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