Communications Hub


Apple has been making a lot of noise about the Mac being a "digital hub," that is, the central device that links your camera, PDA, MP3 player, etc. and provides the processing necessary to make them valuable tools.  For some time, I've been looking for the same thing on the communications side: a "communications hub," if you will. 

The problem is this: I've got a laptop and an iPAQ that I use frequently.  For a while, I've been using a Sprint WAW (wide area wireless) card to access the net from my laptop and my iPAQ when I'm out of the office.  The card works pretty well and has great coverage.  The problem is that I've got to remember to move it from my laptop to the iPAQ and back.  What's more, when its on the iPAQ you've got this hideously bulky holster that it plugs into.   The whole set up is just clunky and, thus, discourages use of soemthing that out to be a productivity tool.   The final straw is that its a power hog, so you can deplete the batteries on any device pretty quickly. 

T68iLast week I got a hold of a Bluetooth enabled Sony Ericsson T68i phone from AT&T Wireless to try out as a communications hub. The phone is small and sleek.   The network uses GSM.  My hope was that a single device, that worked as a phone could also serve my data needs without bulky wires, holsters, or antenna. The set-up succeeded beyond my wildest hope.

My iPAQ and my laptop are both Bluetooth enabled which means "no wires."  Setting up the phone to work as a Bluetooth wireless modem from the laptop and the iPAQ was easy.  The phone stays in my pocket and I can still pull out my iPAQ anywhere and get on the net.  Same with the laptop.  Also, the phone battery lasts much longer than the batteries in the devices.   

What's the downside?  There are two: 

  1. The phone is not dedicated to any of my devices, so I can't have them both on net at the same time (although the can talk to each other using Bluetooth). 
  2. You can't place or receive a call while the phone is being used for data. 

A few other points:

  • Even if your laptop doesn't have Bluetooth, D-Link sells a relatively cheap USB dongle that is small and works just fine. 
  • The phone supports wireless headsets.  This means that if auto manufacturers will start building Bluetooth hands free kits into cars, you'll be able to just step into you car and be connected. 
  • Bluetooth seems to be pretty battery friendly. 
  • The Bluetooth modem works automatically.  It can take a minute to connect, but you don't need to fiddle with it. 
  • This works with an iBOOK as well (using a D-Link dongle).  I followed these instructions.  This information from Oreilly was also helpful. 
  • I don't know of any Verizon or Sprint phones (CDMA) with Bluetooth built in. 
  • You can use the Bluetooth in the phone to sync your contacts to the phone, a very nice way to manage phone information.  There's a calendar in the phone as well, but I haven't synced that yet. 

My conclusion: this is, by far, the best WAW set-up I've come across yet.  If you're away from the office or travel a lot and want to be on net with an iPAQ and laptop, this is a great way to go.