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Road warrior connectivity

By Scott Bradner

I know I travel far too much. Getting to 100K miles on United Airlines by July, as it looks like will happen this year, should indicate something is wrong with my priorities. But, for many reasons, the travel continues. I also get far too much email (and far too much of that is spam). The combination of these two excesses means that I spend long hours dialed-in from hotel rooms. Somehow the glamour of this lifestyle has eluded me so far.

There is now some potential for things to get better. Internet access in hotels and airports has been becoming more common, but there are some rather basic problems with what is being offered. Strangely enough, the systems themselves seem to have been designed by people who do not actually use the Internet. The features of the in-room TV-based systems are strange at best and marginally useful as a norm. And it must have taken quite a bit of research to find a keyboard as bad as the one used on many of the in-airport Internet carrels.

Business hotels are beginning to get a hint of a clue about the need for connectivity but most still need a lot of help. Just having a second phone line that can be used to dial out on is a good start. At least you do not get taken off the air when the hotel's call waiting signal comes on. But it would help if the data jack were on a phone near a desk to put the laptop on. It also helps if there is a power outlet within 30 feet of the data jack that does not get switched off when you turn out the room lights.

What I would really like to see more of is Ethernet-based Internet access in hotel rooms. Ethernet-based means there is no need for special interfaces or drivers, as was the case with a wireless system I ran into in some, it seems now, random hotel in a random city. If the hotel has a reasonable speed connection to a reasonable ISP the performance can be quite good. But there can be significant configuration changes required when plugging into someone else's LAN. The image of the average traveling corporate executive trying to reconfigure their laptop is amusing as long as you do not run the help desk back at their office.

I saw a neat service offering the other day from Elastic Networks. It is designed to go into places such as hotel rooms where many different people may want to plug in. It listens to the Ethernet and automatically configures itself to do address translation so that your laptop just works with no reconfiguration required. I was even able to use the secure shell (ssh) from my Mac back to my home machine by just trying it. I expect there are problems dealing with some sites with firewalls but since we do not have an external firewall at Harvard, I'd change hotels if I could get this service in my room.

disclaimer: Harvard hardly ever travels so the above observations and wishes must be mine.