Guide to mobile working: Handhelds and laptops

The devices allowing you to carry on working once you've left the office

According to Paul Stonadge, enterprise data services executive at mobile network operator Vodafone, mobile data users can be segmented into two broad groups: those whose prime objective is to keep a check on their email and those who require the full functionality of their workplace computer and network while away from the office. “If all you need is email then the best solution is probably a handheld device,” says Stonadge.

“On the other hand, if you are likely to be out of the office for some time and you need to do a lot of work from a remote location, then the only real solution is a networkenabled laptop.” The business units of the major mobile operators – Vodafone, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile – cater for both these user groups. All four not only supply email enabled phones but also 3G cards that will plug your laptop into the mobile networks.

PDAs are a great solution if all you want is to manage contacts, input a limited amount of data or edit files on the move. However, no-one would pretend they are a substitute for the office computer. If that’s what you need, then the only solution is to pack a laptop when you hit the road.

The simplest way to connect a laptop to the web is to use one of the so-called 3G cards supplied by the mobile phone companies. Designed to slot into laptop PCII ports, these devices will enable you and your computer to access the internet at speeds of around 300 to 400 megabits per second across 3G phone networks – in other words, they are just a tad slower than a standard broadband connection.

However, that’s not the whole story. The mobile networks have concentrated their broadband roll-out on urban areas and there are whole swathes of the country where data speeds are limited by an older network technology known as GPRS. It’s not unusable – speeds are just under those achievable on a 56kbs dial-up modem – but anyone used to broadband will notice a marked reduction in performance.

And unless your forays out of the office never take you beyond the reach of conurbations, you will need to access the mobile networks using both GPRS and 3G technology. For instance, on a train journey between London and Glasgow you could pass out of 3G coverage into GPRS and then back again a number of times. 3G wireless cards are designed to make this transition seamlessly by automatically switching band according to network status. In other words, you won’t lose your connection.

So how do you decide between email enabled phone, BlackBerry, PDA or laptop? As Phil Ledward, head of business data at O2 points out, your decision will come down to a number of factors. “It’s a case of what you do, how often you do it and whether or not you want to store information locally,” he says.

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Source: Accessing email remotely

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