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July 25, 2007

They’re Phone Adapters; They’re Toast; WiFi Did It

Img042 Several good nerds correctly identified these about-to-be-trashed items as phone jack connectors – mostly European although one is Japanese. None are power adapters (which I still need) although some sure look like they are demonstrating how extraordinarily far from standardization the landline phone world still is.

I never used them to plug in a phone, of course; just used them so that my dialup modem could connect. Not pictured are the other essential parts of my toolkit including the alligator clips, screwdriver, and linetester I used when I had to go inside the wall to make a connection because there either was no jack or I didn’t have the right adapter.

I haven’t connected via dialup in at least a year. Not sure a dialup connection would do me much good even if I could get it. It might let me download email very slowly – and perhaps at the price of an international landline phonecall back to the US. Most web surfing would be too slow to be useful. Skype – which is an important use of my computer when traveling abroad – simply wouldn’t work over a dial connection nor would it save me anything after I paid for the connection.

Some hotels still provide RJ-45 plugs for an Ethernet connection; the majority of places I go have WiFi available. Although manufacturers typically build WiFi devices before revs of the standard are officially approved, WiFi compatibility is excellent; the manufacturers are building devices for a flat world; not wiring networks for idiosyncratic local networks. In the developing world where neither hotel switchboards nor local phonelines have been particularly reliable in the past, WiFi is usually even more attractive and available as an alternative than it is in the developed West or Asia.

If there isn’t WiFi in the hotel or airport, there is likely to be WiFi somewhere close by at an Internet Café, coffee shop, or bar. The antenna below from Ubiquiti along with my 300mW Ubiquiti WiFi card let me make virtual visits to hotspots anywhere in the neighborhood. Note to nerds: although you may see a strong WiFi hub at a distance, it won’t be able to see you if you are using only the puny little transmitter that came built in to your PC; you’ve got to be able to send a strong signal back if you want log on. Note to hackers: yes, you could use this powerful setup to freeride on open WiFi connections – if you want to take the risk that they haven’t been set up precisely to rope you in.

Img044

There’s a nice irony in the fact that, rather than use the phone lines to make my data connections, I’m using the WiFi connection to make my voice calls.

BTW, I do use my Verizon EVDO card in places in the US where there is not WiFi available or where there is a charge for using it. It works pretty well but is useless outside of the country even though other carriers use the same technology because Verizon doesn’t have data roaming agreement with them and because the card itself, like a cellphone, is locked to Verizon’s network and affiliates and doesn’t support letting me pay to use someone else’s network as WiFi does let me do.

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