Making the Best of Your Wireless Options

Making the Best of Your Wireless Options

laptop-with-mobile-phoneThe array of wireless gadgets and gizmos on the market today is mind-boggling for the typical business owner, whose valuable time is much better spent finding new business, cultivating existing clients, and closing deals.

Tempted by everything from wireless network cards to routers to laptops with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, companies can easily shell out thousands of dollars in their attempt to operate a business without wires. Figuring out how to make the best investment isn’t always easy, nor is determining the value of the money and time investment that must be made to get a wireless setup in gear.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to gain access to the Web and e-mail from just about anywhere. For starters, many companies use BlackBerrys and  other smart phones that offer a variety of services, from basic phone to e-mail and Internet to calendars and address books, essentially serving as an “office away from the office” for owners, managers, and employees who spend much of their time on the road.

With costs that range from $200 to more than $600, depending on the model and type of service contract purchased, smart phones are available with data packages that cost $60 to $100 per month (including phone and text services). “If all you need is e-mail on the go, then smart phones are a great option,” says Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telular, a fixed cellular terminal developer with offices in Atlanta and Chicago.

But what happens when you’re miles from the office and in need of a way to connect back to your company’s network? Or when you need to edit a PDF file and send it to your marketing department within 10 minutes? That’s where Wi-Fi-enabled laptops come in particularly useful. With a PC card (they range in price from $50 to $150) that’s either installed in the laptop or inserted into an expansion slot, users can get connected by dropping into a Starbucks or other establishment that offers public Wi-Fi. Some of the services are free, but others command a per-hour, per-day, or subscription-based fee.

For those of you who need regular access to mobile Wi-Fi —- and who don’t want to run around trying to find public access to such services —- the major cellular phone carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T offer access to the Internet and e-mail from all service areas. They charge $60 for the monthly subscription fee, which covers 5 MB of data (roughly the equivalent of 1.7 million e-mails or 10,000 photos, according to Sprint’s mobile Internet Website). Most carriers also charge activation fees that average $35.

When you sign up for service from a major carrier, a new cellphone number is assigned that’s separate from a voice plan. Using it is as simple as plugging the card into the laptop expansion slot (or using the one already installed in your computer). Most wireless card