Going Wireless on the Road

It is difficult for me to imagine life at home without Internet access. I have had some form of Internet access since 1994. That is an eternity in today’s online world. My first plan included a whopping 10 hours of access per month. The dial-up connection through my 14.4 modem was, of course, slow, but I had nothing to compare it to.

Then came cable, DSL, or what is called broadband access. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven! Pages loaded instantly and life was good. But life is never good enough. My wife and I homeschool our children, and we have a total of four computers hooked up to our home network. I recently called our cable company, and paid another $10 to have them turn up the connection a bit more. Music, video, pictures and the Internet telephone (also known as VOIP) all take up more of the Internet pipeline, and we need all of the speed that we can get.

Most mobile distributors have Internet access at home. But what about access on the truck?

I used to think, what if I could bring that power to my tool truck while not at home? I used the Internet for accessing my bank’s Web site, my franchise’s private dealer-only Web site or for product research. At home. It was not on the tool truck when and where I really needed it. But, the technology wasn’t there yet.

In time, I needed a new way to process credit cards. I began a serious look for the elusive mobile Internet access. I was processing credit cards through a dedicated cellular phone. It was a Motorola analog bag phone (another dinosaur), which had a special box that simulated a dial tone. My Verifone credit card terminal was attached to that. You simply swiped the card through the same type of terminal that your brick and mortar store used, it dialed out and the terminal thought that it was connected to a regular landline phone. But the system was not the best, and, even up in the woods where I live, analog service days were numbered.

At that time, back in 2003, the only choice where I live was T-Mobile. So, I purchased an air card and access plan. The service was limited at the time, but I gradually got used to where I could park the truck at a shop and get access. I spent about a month testing the connection, to make sure it worked before the money-back guarantee expired. And you know something, it worked well enough to keep at $30/month! I still use this service today, and still pay $30 per month.

If you are not using the Internet at home for your business to its fullest potential, you need to start. If you are already a decent Internet user and don’t have access on the truck, it’s time! There are plans all over the country, and if I have mobile access up in the woods of Maine, you probably have access wherever you are.

T-Mobile still offers their basic air card access at that $30 mark. It will give you data rates of about 40 Kbps. In the case of my air card, it is about the speed of a dial-up connection. It works, and I can download product photos from Web sites. You won’t set any speed records with it, but the price is low, and many times you can use the connection to get instant answers to questions that arise on the route, place orders, process credit cards, and many other uses — anything that you use the Internet for at home.

Verizon Wireless offers mobile access as well. I tested a Verizon connection in my area, and was able to consistently get speeds of 120 Kbps. About 100 miles south of me, they are on another Verizon network, and speeds are up to 500 Kbps. That is quickly approaching a DSL connection. Verizon is a bit more expensive, at around $60 per month for an unlimited connection, but you have to be ready to pay for the speed.

Cingular/AT&T offers wireless Internet plans as well. They offer what is called 3G, which is supposed to have speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps, equivalent to about a basic in-home cable Internet package. When not connected to the 3G network, the speed drops considerably. If you are near a metro area that offers 3G, this service is something to look into. I know that Boston is my closest 3G network, and that most major metro areas offer 3G connections.

With these carriers, you can also get access in two ways: a cell phone or an air card.

The cell phone will connect to your computer with a cable, or through a wireless connection. In some cases, you can simply use the screen of this device for web access, eliminating the need to use your PC, but I prefer the full-size display of my laptop for browsing Web sites.

You can also use an air card. This is a device that goes into an expansion slot or a USB port on your computer, and connects your computer without the need of a separate cell phone. The simplicity of the stand-alone connection without using a phone and cables makes this my preferred method.

Whatever carrier or hardware you choose to use, you will benefit from mobile Internet access on your truck. Your customers will appreciate the fact that you are technologically advanced, and that you care enough about them to have another resource to meet their tool needs.

You will appreciate the extra time that you find through better time management. More time to sell more tools, or to spend with the family. Remember the key to success: You, like everyone else in the world, only have 24 hours in a day. Use them well.