Wireless Internet in California

A new users thoughts...

Series 5 and mobile phoneThere is something totally liberating about handling email without a wire - it truly changes the paradigm. It is not just the lack of the wire - it is the fact that checking email requires no special effort. I routinely carry my PDA and mobile phone - and that is all I need to read my email. No wires, no desktop workstation, no phone jack, no power cord. A seat (or space on the floor) is pretty much it.

Having reached that state, I thought it might be useful to review how I did it. The solution I have chosen has only recently been made available in California (somewhat ironic in the home of Silicon Valley!) and so this article includes a 'how-to' if you want to follow suit.

Other Options

First of all, a quick review of the other options:

My Configuration

Here in California one of the local digital phone providers is Pacific Bell, and they have finally started to offer a 'new' (don't laugh at the back there - we know its been available in Europe for a while) Ericsson phone - the I888. Whilst this phone has many neat features, including roaming in Europe, the one that caught my eye was a proper infrared based modem. That and a PDA should get me on the net anywhere...

So what tools do I actually use for this feat? Only two items, so it is a real short list:

Psion Series 5mx Palmtop: ($499)

Psion Series 5 An excellent PDA, with a built-in email program oriented to mobile use. I also use the office package (Word processor, spreadsheet) and database a lot. The only surprise to you may be the OS - EPOC is not a Microsoft product, and is owned by a company (Symbian) that is in turn owned by the major mobile phone manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola). The 5mx worked with the phone right out of the box (OK, I tweaked one setting...), and is generally a very high quality product.

Ericsson I888 World Phone: ($249)

Ericsson I888
Pacific Bell Wireless logoThis is a nice digital PCS handset, about the same size as others on the US market and with a default battery that gives several days of standby, and 2-4 hours of talk time. About the only feature it doesn't have is analog roaming compatibility - but then Pacific Bell doesn't offer that service anyway.

After placing these two items on the desk with their IRDA eyes in sight of each other, I opened the Psion's web browser and entered a URL. It prompted me with the details of my current ISP (IBM.net, but any phone based ISP will work), I changed the location (to 'Mobile') and modem (to 'Infrared Modem') and it almost connected. Visiting the settings for 'Infrared modem', I unchecked the 'Carrier Detect (DCD)' option (I had to do this for my land line modem also), and then tried again. No fuss, no messing, I opened http://my.yahoo.com/, checked the status of my stocks, my news headlines and yahoo email. Yahoo!, indeed :-)

Since web-email means connect time even when you are reading, I next fired up the Psion email program, and connected to my ISP's POP3 servers (I have several). Easy as that, I was reading and replying to my mail.

Now I can sit pretty much anywhere (the parking lot of a customer in Seattle, the show floor at Comdex, Starbucks...) and get email and web browsing. There are other options too - this is a full internet connection, so there are FTP, Telnet, ICQ and other programs available.

One final item worth mentioning is SMS messaging. This feature of GSM-based PCS phones enables short text messages, like two-way text pagers. The Series 5mx has a built-in program that lets you type and read these messages on the larger keyboard and screen that the 5mx has compared to the I888. Pacific Bell also offer a gateway between their SMS network and internet email, providing a cheaper, quicker option for brief communications. SG Software produce an excellent package called PhoneManPro that adds several features over the built-in SMS software, and also lets you link the PDA's address book with the phone memory. Very useful, and worth the registration fee!

Referenced Items


Psion Series 5mx, Ericsson I888 - Pacific Bell Wireless Service, IBM.net (Now ATT Business).

EPOC Internet Software

nFTP, RMRFTP, JTelnet, Hermes, nICQ, PhoneManPro.


Psion, SG Software, Symbian, Microsoft, Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Palm, Metricom, Sprint, Starbucks (!).

See also: Wireless Internet in the UK; TheDialer (Free software)

This page © John McAleely, July 2001