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Traveling, Mobile Data, and Public WiFi Access

I recently got promoted at work.  I’m now responsible for QA Systems in both the Chicago and Denver offices of R.H. Donnelley Interactive.  With a wife who’s 8 1/2 months pregnant, I find myself bouncing between Chicago and Denver, and at least twice so far this month.  My wife will likely deliver early, so no more traveling for me between now and the time that the baby comes.

So… I’m sitting here on the floor next to a plug in the Denver airport, shifting weight from cheek to cheek (cuz the floor is really hard!), trying to charge my Mac formatted iPod from a Windows controlled USB port on an HP TC4400 Tablet PC.  My goal is to NOT accidentally format the iPod so I can at least watch a movie on this flight. While its not long, I hate sleeping on planes, as I never sleep well, and usually come off the plane grumpy.

As a thought… why are AC outlets such a hot commodity in airports? You would think that in today’s day and age with everybody and their brother carrying a laptop, there would be free power kiosks; or at least MORE PLUGS!  I hate being a power whore.., "Excuse me, you’ve been in that plug for over an hour, do you mind if we share..?"  Sheesh!  The dirty looks you get from someone with exclusive AC access..!

Anyway, As I was in the office, and at the hotel, and even here in the airport, I felt as though I was an unwelcomed guest in almost every location me and my TC4400 visited. At the office, while I could get "on" the Internet, I couldn’t connect to my VPN through the wired network. I’m not exactly certain why…

I also could not use the built in wireless adapter at the office, because the security they have enabled on it is just nuts!  It also isn’t very easy to get connected, even with the built in HP tools (where’s Network Magic when you need it???)

My hotel (a Marriott) had a wired network cable in the room, but they wanted some ungodly amount to connect for 24 hours (like $15-$20 bucks); and I just wasn’t going to give it to them… Oh you could get on, but you couldn’t surf past their sign up page… Such a deal!

The same thing happened to me in the Denver International Airport, Concourse C.  I was able to get to the landing page; but I refuse to pay for access for casual surfing. It just seems too excessive to me.

I’ve got a Verizon PC5750 Wireless Air Card that the office got for me.  I use it to get access on the 120 minute round trip commute to the office and back to get some extra work done.  I have a love hate relationship with this thing, though.

I love it because its hauled my butt out of the fire more than once. Its gotten me access when, for what ever reason, regular network access didn’t work (like the last 2 days in the Denver office…not sure what’s up with that, though). I hate this thing because if you breathe on it hard, the drops the connection.  The Exchange 2003 Server we have at the office isn’t configured correctly for mobile users. I max out my 32 allowed connections during my first session (the connection to the server keeps dropping, and instead of reestablishing the current connection, Exchange creates a new one, and leaves the old one(s) active.After 32 active connections, Exchange won’t let you connect, regardless of your credentials.  My VPN software is also flakey, so it drops its connection every time the air card does, and won’t auto reconnect when the Internet connection is restored.

Traveling with mobile data needs isn’t easy. Finding a way of getting access (and apparently AC power…) isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Using my phone as a modem isn’t a good option for me right now, as I have a greater need for a working phone (due to my wife’s pregnancy) than for Internet access.

I’m not completely certain what the best solution is here, or if there is truly…TRULY a problem.  However, it just seems to me to be way too difficult to get and stay connected in a day and age when I really just want to get access, get some quick work done, and then get off.  Configuring networks to allow some people on, and keep the unwanted out, shouldn’t be so difficult that legitimate, visiting users can’t get the kind of access they need.

I know Jenneth has commented about some of this for our Down Under readers.  What is everyone else’s opinions and experiences here in The States?  Am I the only one who has a need for cheap, affordable (read free) network connectivity that just works, or am I being too picky??

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