Hardware Review: On The Road With 3Com and My Notebook
3commodem.jpg - 6691 Bytes
As seen in the January/February 2002 issue of Link-UP magazine

By J.A. Hitchcock

I hate depending on hotel telephone lines to dial into my ISP when I'm on the road with my IBM Thinkpad A22M notebook. I'm never sure if I'll find a local number to dial into; if I'll connect; if the connect speed is as close to my 56K modem as possible (more than likely, it's less than 33.6K); and if the hotel charges for local calls.

I knew there had to be a better way to connect to the net while traveling and began searching online, visiting various web sites of companies that make notebook modems. I ended up sticking with 3Com (which U.S. Robotics was purchased by), since my current desktop and notebook modems are made by them, and because I found exactly what I needed.

The 3Com Megahertz 56K GSM & Cellular Modem PC Card (yep, it's a mouthful) is not your typical PC card for notebooks. When you add a Direct-Connect cable compatible with your cell phone, you can connect to the net with your cell phone and not have to depend on the hotel telephone lines.

Although there aren't Direct Connect cables for every cell phone on the market, 3Com does cover the most popular ones (so far):

- Nokia 5120, 5160, 5165, 6120, 6160, 6161, 6162 Series (not the *I* models) - Motorola StarTAC cellular phones 3000, 6000, 6500, 8000, 8500, 8600, and 7790 - Ericsson AH600 Series, LX788,LX677, KF788, KH688, KF688, DF688, DH618, T18d and R250

Since I have a Nokia 6160, to say I was overjoyed is an understatement.

Plugging in the PC Card was a snap (literally) and following the instructions via the included CD-ROM made installation a breeze. The secret to this PC Card is the Xjack Connector, which basically has a slot to plug a regular telephone cord into (this is where the Direct Connect cable comes in - one end looks like a regular telephone jack plug, the other fits the cell phone). The Direct Connect cable comes with its own software on a diskette and once that was installed and taken care of, I was ready to set up my Nokia 6160 as the connection to my ISP.

I found that I could use the PC Card as a regular modem when the Direct Connect cable was not plugged in, but when I did plug it into the Xjack Connector, it automatically knew I was going to use my cell phone.

The trick to all this is to open the communications software that was installed *before* plugging the cable in. Even though this is stated in the instructions, I have to admit I'm one of those "hands-on" people who sticks the CD-ROM or diskette in, installs and flies with it. My husband hates that I don't read the manual the majority of the time!

All I did was dial into my regular ISP using the same number I dial into at home (I have a nationwide service plan with my cell phone and never use all the minutes in the plan), connected at 53.3K and I was online.

After I got over this pleasant shock, I began surfing like crazy, answering my e-mail, doing some research and basically visiting goofy sites like Scary Squirrel World and Mr. Winkles - trust me, they're worth the visit.

Although the PC card can be used as a fax as well, I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but I'm sure that works as well as everything else.

3Com couldn't have made an easier product to use. I am very pleased with this, as I have been with previous products made by them and applaud them for consistently putting out reliable, easy-to-use hardware!

So, if you're on the road a lot, or use a laptop as your primary computer and want to be "cordless" from your regular telephone line, get the 3Com Megahertz 56K GSM & Cellular Modem PC Card and compatible Direct Connect cable for your cell phone.

I'm hoping 3Com will be providing new cables as new cell phones come out.

3Com Megahertz« 56K* Global GSM and Cell Modem PC Card
List $229
Now $169 at the 3Com site - www.3com.com or www.usrobotics.com

J.A. Hitchcock, awriter@jahitchcock.com, is the author of seven books and a freelance writer, as well as president of W.H.O.A. (Working to Halt Online Abuse)

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