While Nextel's Direct Connect press-to-talk technology might offer a more versatile replacement to conventional walkie-talkies, wireless phones typically are not as durable and resistant to inclement weather as mobile radio handsets.

Nextel hopes to address this inequity with the introduction of the Motorola i305, the first all-weather phone with Direct Connect. Resistant to dust, shock, vibration and extreme weather, the Motorola i305 is designed for industrial-sector and public-safety users, as well as outdoor enthusiasts.

Built to Military Standard 810 F, the Motorola i305 handset withstands temperatures ranging from minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit to 248 degrees Fahrenheit and can be used in blowing rain, humidity and salt fog, thanks to protection provided by a sealed interior lining. The handset is encased in rubber and also features a brushed chrome lens guard.

“Our phones have always had a sense of durability, some more than others, but this is the first all-weather phone that meets military standards,” said Nextel spokeswoman Rebecca Gertsmark. “There are some accessories for our existing phones that provide some protection … but there isn't anything that you could put on our phones that would make them as durable as the i305.”

Such durability has long been available in walkie-talkies, but the older technology does not also work as a digital phone and allow access to e-mail, text messaging and the Nextel Online Web within the United States.

The i305 also is GPS-enabled, which makes it ideal for use by field-service personnel. Dispatchers easily can track their locations and make assignments in the most efficient manner possible, Gertsmark said. “The i305 reaffirms our commitment to meet the needs of those users,” she said.
— Donny Jackson

Verizon Wireless's 1xEVDO service lives up to billing

Despite the rapid proliferation of Wi-Fi there's still a long way to go before such services become ubiquitous. Too many gaps exist between hot spots and no universal roadmap is available to help traveling employees find those that do exist.

Verizon Wireless is working to fill those gaps with its BroadbandAccess service, the first operational 1xEVDO (data only) network in the United States. The service is targeted primarily to enterprises. A key component is the carrier's mobile office suite, which is able to integrate with corporate virtual private networks. This capability enables companies to extend their wireless local area networks to an entire metropolitan network, according to Verizon Wireless.

The carrier launched the service October 1 and currently is offering high-speed service in metropolitan San Diego and Washington D.C. Built using third generation (3G) cellular phone technology, it offers typical download speeds of 300-500 kb/s, according to the carrier, with the potential to burst up to 2 MB/s.

The service, like most consumer broadband offerings, is asymmetrical. Verizon Wireless claims average upload speeds in the 40-60 kb/s range, so sending large data files or conducting a two-way videoconference is out of the question. The carrier offers a flat-rate fee of $79.99 per month for unlimited use of the BroadbandAccess network and its NationalAccess 1xRTT service outside of the San Diego and D.C. areas. The 1xRTT data service offers download speeds of 40-60 kb/s in typical usage, with the potential to burst up to 144 kb/s.

The service requires the purchase of a PC-card data modem — in this case the AirPrime 3220 — for installation into a laptop. Purchased through Verizon Wireless via its web site or retail locations, the PC-card comes with a CD for installation of software drivers and the Mobile Connection Manager support application. List price is $249, but Verizon Wireless usually offers a $100 rebate with a two-year service contract.

After a few false starts linked to the age of my equipment and operating system — a circa 1997 laptop with Windows 97 and a Pentium 166 MHz processor — I was able to install the AirPrime card and MCM software under Windows ME. It would be fair to say that while the card and software works with an older machine, better and smoother operation is likely to be found with newer hardware.

Once installed, the MCM provides both an icon in the Windows toolbar that indicates connectivity status and a larger tool that replicates the symbols on a cell phone display, including bars for signal strength. Clicking on an icon initiates a dial-up connection to the network, with colors shifting from blue (attempting to connect) to green (connected). Once connected, the MCM displays a running log of the data flowing upstream and downstream. The MCM also keeps a separate connection log with date, time, total amount of connection time, and total amounts of data uploaded and downloaded.

I ran a series of speed trials between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, using BroadbandReports.com's web site tools to test transfer speeds. The java applet transfers a set of MP3 files between a server and the user's computer, and results should fall within 90% of the advertised speed, according to the site. Test runs were rotated between the three public BroadbandReports.com servers to factor out any network-dependent glitches that may have affected performance on any particular run. I conducted tests in several different rooms on the second floor of a business in Laurel, Md., at different times during the day.

Because the service is inherently dependent upon cellular telephone infrastructure, connection speed can be (and was) affected by the other usage on the cell site and the location of the cellular modem relative to the cell site. My tests yielded download speeds ranging from 183-502 kb/s, with speeds averaging between 300-400 kb/s early in the morning, slowing to 230-270 kb/s at mid-day and then picking back up close to the end of the day. Upload speeds ranged from 27 kb/s-96 kb/s, with average speeds ranging from 50-60 kb/s. All things considered, the service generally works as advertised.
— Doug Mohney

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