|BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : NOVEMBER 13, 2000 ISSUE|
|TECH BUYING GUIDE
ONLINE EXTRA: Staying Connected on the Road
Hotel chains, airlines, and airports are doing their darndest to make sure the traveling exec never has to leave the Net
As head of Möbius Media, a New Orleans-based public-relations and Web-design firm, Eric Kavanagh spends a lot of time on the road making client presentations. But too often, Kavanagh would find himself frustrated by his inability to download key documents from his office that could improve his presentation or address a client's question on the spot. "I'd lose a day because I couldn't get information from my sales and marketing staff," he says.
Lately, Kavanagh has found that being on the road doesn't mean being out of touch. Thanks to a push among airports, airlines, and hotels to provide better service to the laptop-toting traveler, Kavanagh can swap e-mail with his staff while waiting for his flight or download files from the Web from his hotel room. "I can get information just in the nick of time," he raves.
To ensure you get the same satisfaction, you'll need to do some homework before you head out on your trip. While you can find Internet kiosks at a few airports, such as New York's LaGuardia and Denver's International Airport, you'll find -- as Kavanagh has -- that your best bet is the growing number of independent cybercafés, or "laptop lounges," popping up in terminals across the country.
CARRY A CARD. For example, MobileStar Network Corp., which operates in Austin and the two Dallas airports, provides wireless high-speed connections for $5.95 a day, or monthly access for between $30 and $60 a month. You'll need a special Ethernet card that uses standard technology, which you can purchase either from a local computer retailer or from the cybercafés themselves, at prices ranging from $129 to $179.
The airlines are trying to get in the game too: While most carriers offer simple dataports through their concierge clubs -- allowing you to dial into America Online or the 800 number for your corporate intranet -- American Airlines has begun rolling out MobileStar's service across its Admirals Club (at a price comparable to what MobileStar charges independently), and Delta and United hope to offer similar services by next year.
The airlines are trying to extend high-speed Web access to gate areas, but don't hold your breath. In many cities, they're scuffling with airport officials, who want a cut of Internet revenues collected at gates -- which airlines contend would make the service unprofitable. Airlines are also working on providing in-flight Web access, although that likely won't occur before 2001.
POWER POSITIONS. In the meantime, most fliers would be happy to settle for a simple power connection. The major carriers are adding DC power ports, mostly in the first- and business-class cabins. American is installing one port for every row in coach. Continental and United make DC power available in coach rows 17 to 23 on its Airbus planes, but your reservation agent probably won't volunteer that information. So be sure to ask for a seat in those rows. Because your laptop won't work with your normal power adapter, you'll need to pick up a $120 airport adapter -- with a cigarette lighter-type tip -- at an electronics store, such as CompUSA or Office Depot.
At your destination, you'll find that many business-class hotels are getting in on the Internet act. Marriott International and Hilton Hotels are starting to offer high-speed Internet access for $8 to $10 a day, while a few chains, such as Wingate Inns and SuiteStar Corp., are offering it for free.
If you prefer to use your existing Internet service provider via a local-access number, be advised that hotels have sneaky ways of discouraging the practice. Many quietly charge 10 cents a minute for any call -- including toll-free and local calls -- that exceeds a preset time limit, generally 30 or 60 minutes.
B.Y.O.C. Again, it pays to arrive with your own Ethernet card, as well as a $10 Ethernet cable, since the cables that hoteliers like Marriott provide in the rooms seem to disappear faster than the towels. Be forewarned that while these new services will enable you to access data or mail accounts that exist on the public Internet, things can get complicated if you're trying to dial into your corporate Intranet (assuming your company, like most, has erected a firewall).
And to use high-speed access on your laptop, you'll need to run a virtual private network client -- which may reject some services for not meeting its security requirements. So consult with your corporate tech-support team before you hit the road. If they can work out the details, you'll find that airports and hotels can serve as your second office.
By Daniel Northington in Atlanta
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