Posts categorized "Teleworking"

Sprint or Verizon? Recommendations for broadband access card for my Mac?

Who would you recommend for a wireless broadband access service for my laptop? Sprint or Verizon? (Those seem to be my main choices here in Keene, NH.) And would you recommend the USB dongle or the ExpressCard version?

In heading out the Communications Developer Conference/ITEXPO next week in L.A., the show organizers have already told me there is no free WiFi access at the LA Convention Center... but I can, of course, pay for the access through the local provider. (And probably deal with the same usual headaches of getting adequate signal strength.)

I am so incredibly sick of show WiFi, both in terms of paying for it and also just in quality, that yes, indeed, even though I am a cheap Yankee... er... "frugal", I think I need to suck it up and pay the $720/year to have wireless Internet access over the cell networks. This will also be hugely beneficial for all the wonderful times I spend hanging out in airports.

My choice seems to be either Sprint or Verizon. (AT&T and T-Mobile don't have great coverage in my area.) Both will cover whatever limited roaming I do in my local area... and both have coverage in the major cities I tend to travel to. I've seen both used on the Amtrak train down to New York. They both charge ~$60/month... they both charge $50-100 for your actual broadband access card. They both require a 2-year contract (or reference a 1-yr but then your hardware costs go up.) And they both seem to have 5GB monthly limits (on-network).

On the actual hardware, it seems that I can get either a USB dongle or an ExpressCard. The USB is interesting in the sense that I can plug it into virtually any computer and use it. But the ExpressCard version looks interesting because: 1) I don't use that slot currently for anything else (whereas I do plug things into the USB slots); and 2) it looks like a smaller external form factor, i.e. there's less sticking out of my laptop.

So my questions for you all, dear readers, are these:

  • Have you seen any great reason to prefer Sprint or Verizon?
  • Do either one work better with the Mac? (my laptop these days)
  • Do either work better than the other inside of buildings like convention halls? (I'm imagining neither one works great.)
  • Any suggestions of the USB dongle over the ExpressCard card?

Any advice or recommendations is definitely welcome... I'll probably be picking one of these up in the next couple of days. (Thanks in advance!)

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Remote VoIP teleworker sets serve as an Internet connectivity warning device...

image Here's a great side benefit of having an IP phone in teleworker mode hanging off of a system somewhere out there on the Internet - you have a close-to-instant warning system about Internet connectivity issues. 

Take this morning... I walk into my home office and see that one of my phones has come out of its sleep status and the backlight is on and showing "CONNECTION PENDING..." with these black square boxes next to it.  I glance at another IP phone:  "PLEASE WAIT"

Oh, %#$#?!.  It's going to be that kind of Monday morning!

Yes, indeed, as I woke up the PCs, I did indeed have no connectivity.  Couldn't get to any websites and all the IM clients were cycling waiting to get connected.  After doing the usual power-cycling of the cable modem and verifying that I could get an address but couldn't ping beyond the next hop router, a relatively-quick call to Comcast brought the word that there was a "partial outage" in my area and that connectivity might be going up and down for the next two hours.

Great.  Wonderful way for a home office worker to start a Monday.

But it did remind me of one great benefit of having these IP teleworker phones[1] - they are a great way to know almost instantly whether my connection is up.  If I'm in the middle of doing something on my PC and it seems like connectivity is down, I just turn my head to look at the phones and can see very quickly if they are up.  Likewise, if I'm downstairs using my wife's PC and it seems like Internet access is down, I just go up the stairs and pop my head in the office... first glance is to see if the phones are up. 

It's a great side benefit of having the phones, although admittedly it wasn't anything on my mind when we were rolling out the Mitel Teleworker solution back in January 2003.  (Full disclosure: I was the product manager for the product when it was released.)

Now, this works in my case because the phones are using Mitel's own MiNET protocol and always have an encrypted MiNET connection established back to the Teleworker server sitting on the edge of the corporate network.  If the connection is broken, the phone flags that by displaying the aforementioned warning messages.  It's not *instant*, but typically within 30-60 seconds of the connection being down the messages appear.  If the phones were, say, in SIP mode connected to a SIP server out there, I wouldn't get the same fast notice because in SIP mode they are essentially stand-alone endpoints - think of them as mini-computers with a phone handset.  The first time I'd really notice was when I went to make a connection (or if the phone went to make some regularly scheduled connection and couldn't and put up an error message). 

This "side benefit" is, of course, not at all unique to Mitel implementations.  Basically any other IP phones that have "always-on" connections back to a central server will have the potential to do the same thing.

It works the other way, too, in letting you know when the connection is back online... while I was on the phone talking to the pleasant customer service rep at Comcast, how did I know that my Internet service was restored  (at least for the moment) without looking at my PC?  Simple...

... all my IP phones were back in operation.

[1] And yes, I have several teleworker phones- three to be exact, but hey, I'm working on emerging technology stuff so I have to be able to experiment and work with these phones.  They are also on different switches and trial systems.

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Telephony disrupted: It's darn hard to be a remote teleworker without Net access!

About 1:30pm today, I lost internet connectivity.  It was quite comical, really, how I noticed.  For some reason, I did something I almost never do and hit the "Music On Hold" button on my teleworker sets hanging off of Mitel's switch up in Ottawa.  So there, in a wonderful use of bandwidth, radio station CHEZ-106 out of Ottawa was streaming into my home office down here in Vermont.  (That's what the trial guys are using as the MOH music source for the trial switch to which I am connected.) 

All of a sudden, the phone started playing the same audio packet again and again and again... I felt like I  was transported back about 25 years to the era of skipping records!  I wondered what was up but then I noticed a browser window on my computer not being able to find a link I had just opened to a popular web site.  I quickly looked at my other teleworker phones and they, too, were going into a resiliency mode attempting to failover to their secondary IP-PBX.  A glimpse at my laptop showed that Skype, MSN, Jabber were all starting their contortions of trying to reconnect.


Being a network geek, I did the usual response of ssh'ing into my home network gateway, looking at the routing table and trying to ping the next hop router.  Nothing.  Then I did the usual "consumer-hooked-to-a-cable-network" response of power-cycling the cable modem and then re-trying the ping.  Nothing.

A quick call to a neighbor who is also a home office worker got me this: "Oh, yeah, they've cut the Internet access as part of the re-wiring they are doing to the neighborhood power lines. Didn't you get the letter?  There are all sorts of Burlington Electric, Comcast and Verizon trucks up there right now. "


We did get "the letter", but given that this is school vacation week and we'd been planning to go away, I'd actually forgotten all about the potential problems.  Since we decided to stay around, the issue hadn't re-entered my consciousness...  perhaps we'll rethink those plans!

I kind of feel like I'm back teaching the "Intro to Networking" classes I used to teach where I'd always say, "Probably 90% of networking issues are Physical Layer - always check your cables first."   If the power company cuts your Net access... there's not really much you can do!

(2:20-ish - Net back up... (or else I'd be hard-pressed to post this note))