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 We met Mel a while ago via email and most recently we found them in our home Coast to Coast park in Alabama. It was Mel who told me what I needed to connect to the internet with my cell phone. He also told me where to order the cable and set up my dial up access.  Mel currently writes a technical column for RV Companion and maintains a web site about computers and computing.
Computing & Communicating on the Road
WrittenOriginally For Safari (Trek's Newsletter)
    By Mel Chaney 

During the past year or two, many advances have been made in the ability of RVers to compute and communicate, without the luxury of a standard telephone line in their RV. Possibly, the most significant advance has been in the attitude of campgrounds and RV resorts. I seriously doubt there is a campground that hasn't received many requests to provide a temporary connection to one of their telephone lines for sending and/or receiving Email from a portable, laptop computer. Responding to their customer's need, most campgrounds will allow a few minutes connectivity to one of their office phone lines, particularly to their credit card verifying or FAX line. Responding also is Good Sam's "Trailer Life Campground Guide", which now includes an area in the campground's rating and features listing, stating if it is "Modem Friendly". Also included is the type of telephone line connectivity provided, such as: in office, private area, smart payphone; even the elusive hot telephone lines on campsites, etc. To remain competitive, campgrounds are providing modem connectivity of  some kind, faster than any other improvement. 

With that said, there's still Municipal, State and Federal parks, which seldom allow connectivity to their tax-payer funded telephone lines. Then there's still the 15% or so of commercial and private campgrounds that haven't awakened to the wants and needs of their customers. For an ever increasing number of RVers, that need is connectivity of some kind, to send/receive Email and to conduct online banking. While that may be the "need'" the real "want" is to be able to perform those functions from within the comfort and security of their RV. Since RVs aren't provided an endless length of telephone extension line, or for that matter a place to connect it to, the only remaining option is to gain that connectivity service over the airwaves. This implies cellular telephone or radio wireless communications.

More people are using cellular telephones than ever before, some homes having cellular as their only telephone service. Similarly, in the new mobile society, portable computers are fast becoming a necessity. Both being portable technology, they marry neatly into an alternative means to communicate via data, or Email. Please remember this: cellular enabled modems are special; they have two connectors on them, one for connecting to a standard telephone line and another for connecting to a cellular telephone. There's a special, proprietary interconnecting cable to interface a cellular enabled modem to a cellular telephone. Since there are many modem manufacturers and models as well as many cellular telephones and models, the cable must be built uniquely for each combination of modem and phone.  There are many more models of cellular enabled modems than cellular phones, so it's necessary to purchase the interconnecting cable from the modem manufacturer. For the time being, 3COM has probably the most popular and best cellular enabled modems available, especially since they purchased US Robotics and their popular MegaHertz modem line. 

Regardless of the cell phone, either log on to your "cellular enabled" modem manufacturer's web site or call their sales department to purchase the interconnect cable. Be prepared to provide specific model numbers of both the modem and cell phone. Unless you have one of those special One-Rate-Cellular-Plans, a bit of effort configuring a dialer in your PC is all that stands between you and data connectivity from within the RV. Will it be affordable? That depends. If you're in an area that does not charge you: roaming fees, air-time and long distance it's not going to cost you more than a standard telephone call. If your cell phone contract and telephone number is from Florida and you're calling from Oregon to your Kentucky based Internet Service Provider (ISP) then things get very expensive, very quickly. Don't  underestimate this cost; we recently heard from an RV couple that spent over $8,000.00 on cellular phone charges, during a 4 month RV vacation, mostly for Internet connectivity.

The best way to avoid very high cost cellular use is probably to enter into one of the long distance carriers "One Rate Plans". Please don't confuse this with those plans offering a specific charge per minute of use. This type of plan charges a specific cost, for a specific amount of minutes per month. As an example: the ATT one rate plan offers 600 minutes of connectivity for about $90.00 a month. Other offerings go up to 1,500 minutes or so. The best feature is no matter where you are calling from or where in the United States, you're calling to, all calls are treated as local ones. There's no roaming, long distance or air-time charges. The catch is the cellular telephone must be purchased in conjunction with entering the plan, usually cell phones already owned won't work with these one rate plans. 

The beauty of this approach is one doesn't have to abandon the long-term relationship with their local ISP and/or start over with another email address, simply because they're touring the Country. Since the connection call is always treated as a local call, you're off and running no matter where you are. Combine this with pre paid calling cards, tailoring another dialer in your PC to call its 800 (toll free), telephone number and you have the best of all worlds. Connect via your calling card when in modem friendly campgrounds and cellular phone when a standard telephone line isn't available.  Pre paid calling card cost is coming down monthly, now it's less than 9 cents per minute, very inexpensive. 

A quick example on how to configure a dialer for calling card use begins with calling your ISP from a standard telephone or payphone. In detail, record the automated operator's statements, time delay between required responses, etc.  Learn which operator talk can be bypassed with a response entry and which ones require waiting until the drone ceases. A comma is inserted for about each two seconds of required delay. Our calling card requires us to call their 800 number, wait about 10 seconds, enter 1 for English, wait 4 seconds, enter the cards PIN, wait for 2 seconds, then enter the number of our ISP. Following is our dial string to accomplish it, for obvious reasons the PIN number is modified.  Referring to this sequence, one should understand the process well enough to tailor their own, special responses and delays. We're in Florida now, the ISP is in Seattle, Washington.

1 800 9657708,,,,,,,1,,4403682457,12063360001 

Many customers have so much trouble configuring a dialer for cellular connectivity to the Internet, they simply give up. It is fairly simple, once the following is known. First, cellular data transfer is slow, very slow. Configure your dialer for connect speeds of 2400 or 4800 BPS. Under "Configure" and then "Connection" click off "wait for dial tone" and set the time to cancel the call if not connected to at least 60 seconds. From the same screen, click on "Advanced", then "Use Cellular Protocol" and "standard modulation".  Leave the cellular telephone turned off and connect the special cable to it, then to the laptop's modem. You should hear a beep-beep, indicating the modem knows the cell phone is now attached. Turn on the cellular phone and click on connect with your dialer. You should be off and running. If problems occur with the phone trying to dial the last number it dialed, turn off that feature in the phone. Also, be sure you put all those numbers into your dialer that your ISP requires into the Server, TCP-IP settings, just copy them from another, working dialer. 

It is a good habit to send your email in text only format, rather than the more popular HTML. In your email program click on "tools", "options", "send" and select "text". Text isn't as fancy as the highly formatted HTML and picture attachments can't be added to email, but the messages will be infinitely shorter in required data. Encourage those you often receive email from to send in text only format. Most of the time email programs format the message in the same format as the message they're replying to, so that feature will help in how large incoming Email is likely to be. Keep in mind, cellular data transfer is slow so the simpler format helps the transfer(s) of email to complete fairly quick.

Whatever method of connectivity you're using that day, compose all email offline in the RV. In your Email program, click "off" each option to dial immediately, check for incoming email every so often, etc. Under "Tools", "Accounts", "Mail", "Properties", "Connection" click off the option to always use a specific dialer.  You want complete control, when and if, sending or receiving of Email will occur. Bring up your dialer of choice, once connected to your ISP, click send/receive on your email program. Once finished, click disconnect on the dialer, on the cellular telephone, don't forget to hit "End".

Another tool in our connectivity toolbox is a radio-based system. The PC card is about the same size as our cellular enabled PCMCIA modem (credit card sized) but has a nodule hanging off it, outside the PC. The nodule contains an internal battery (charged by the PC) and the little radio antenna. It's marketed by 3COM as the "All-Points, Wireless Modem" and at almost $400.00 it is expensive. This little system bypasses the local telephone companies completely, using radio to connect to Radio RAM transceivers, which in turn forward the data to a radio based ISP. We subscribed to the radio ISP GoAmerica, there are many others. Passing out only that email address, when in a radio contact area, we receive and send email directly from them, inside the RV. Before leaving a radio contact area, we turn on their feature to forward all Email to our regular ISP Email address, thus receiving our Email from there. This feature works exactly like free HotMail does. There is a standard telephone number to contact most of these radio based ISPs, but they're generally slow and cumbersome to use. However, if you go this route, be advised Radio Ram is only available within about 25 miles of very major cities, some states in the central north having none at all. One unique feature is that you can do some Internet browsing with it. The system does not forward graphics or pictures; only text from the WEB. With so many sites using graphics to click on options, it can become a bother. Keep your bookmarks up to date and go directly to Web sites/pages frequented often. With this system, you stay connected all the time, there's no connect charge. You're charged only by the amount of data transferred, no roaming, long distance, etc. When an Email comes in the PC rings like a telephone, informing you appropriately in real-time.