Friday, November 23, 2007

Well, ok, it works

I've had some consistency problems with Shaw's cable internet service, which Derek and I share via a wireless router. Lately, the service has been unavailable about half of the time. I've become frustrated enough to set up a "portable internet" account with Rogers. To this end, I purchased a wireless modem (this one made by Motorola) which is the central component necessary to connect to Rogers portable internet services.

The company which actually sold this modem to me is one of three or four in the Metrotown mall which are Rogers representatives. They appeared to be the only ones who had this modem in stock. They went through the routines to set up and activate my new account right on the premises. I took the modem home, unwrapped it, and plugged it into the wall, and connected the included RJ45 connecting cable to my wireless router. You can also connect your wireless modem directly to your computer if you're not running a network.

Astonishingly, there were no setup instructions or manuals included. I'm tech-savvy, and got the internet connection going after experimenting for about an hour. The reason for experimenting (aside from the lack of instructions) was that there is no information regarding how this modem handles IP addressing - DHCP or static addressing, which exact addresses, defaults, etc. - all necessary for successful internet communication. I can't see how anyone unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of computer communications can easily get this going. An easy installation is claimed on the wrapper of the box in which the modem was packaged (see picture).

the wrapper

the wirelss modem (indicator lights at the top)

In order to use Outlook Express for email (email is one of the "killer apps" for which many people get involved with the internet in the first place) you need certain information, such as mail server names, port usage, etc., none of which was included with the package. This information is "Rogers-specific" in this case, because I'm using Rogers as an Internet Service Supplier (ISP - see image above). The modem wrapper bears Rogers' label but that information was not immediately at hand.

Today, I dug a little deeper into setting up Outlook Express (OE). Since a number of parameters in OE need to be set up for email, and since these parameters depend to some considerable degree on the "characteristics" of the ISP, this information needed to come from Rogers. So, I phoned their technical support, and, after going through an automated response system (using voice phrase recognition) I talked to a real person. This person (I think his name is Dave) supplied all the necessary information, as well as the requisite expertise, to get the email setup up and running. He spent 31 minutes with me making sure that things were working according to how I wanted my system to work. Dave is the kind of technical support person seldom available nowadays. Many companies get a bad press for poor customer service, but this is an instance which illustrates what customer service should be. Kudos to Rogers for this one.

Well, what's the bottom line? The system works, but it's not a fast as the ads want you to believe. Now, a fair number of external factors affect the performance of your internet experience - number of users online, bandwidth available, your own computer, etc. In my case, I think that signal strength (like that of a radio station) may be an issue.

The wireless modem has five unlabelled indicator lights (see image above). I have yet to find out what they indicate, but I theorize that they indicate signal strength. Only one light on may indicate low strength, five on may mean maximum strength. After moving the modem to various spots in my office, I could only come up with a maximum of three indicator lights turning on. So perhaps this means a kind of "medium strength" signal, which might have an effect on performance. I must emphasize that this is my theory only - I stand to be corrected.

The nice thing about this whole approach is that you're independent of the "hard-wired" (phone lines or cable) systems. If some car runs into a pole, or some thief steals some copper cable, you're still in operation. A big point is the fact that this system is portable - if you really want to have complete internet connectivity elsewhere (in your car, say) and you want to use your current computer and its files, and the wireless modem, you don't need to change any settings, and you can just carry on as though you are in your office (for this to work, you've got to take the wireless modem with you into the car). Of course you could always buy a Blackberry, or the new iPod Touch.

I wonder what my long-term feelings about this system will be - I'll let you know in time.