Dollars and Sense

Internet access cheaper, easier

I’m still surprised at the number of owner-operators who don’t have full-time access to the Internet from the road. It no longer costs thousands of dollars to buy a laptop, and cellular data coverage on the road continues to get better.

Even if you don’t own a laptop, you could get a bundled deal from one of the cell providers that would include a netbook (a miniature laptop) and virtually unlimited Internet access for under $700 a year. If you think that’s too much money, you’re not aware of the opportunities this opens for making (or saving) money in your business.

One option for getting started is to buy a full-size laptop and then buy your Internet service from a cellular provider through an aircard and monthly service. The aircard provides wireless service anywhere you can get the cell signal.

If you have a smartphone, you may be able to connect to the Internet by tethering your laptop to your phone, or you can buy a netbook with cellular wireless access built in. Some of the best deals now are on netbooks with this kind of built-in access. Keep in mind these devices will work only on the wireless service built into them.

Like phones, netbooks have become very inexpensive. Some deals make the netbook virtually free when you subscribe to a two-year plan. Pricing of data plans is based on how much data you can transfer monthly.

Owner-operators should stick to high-data plans simply because of how much time they spend on the road. With a smaller plan, it’s too easy to go over your limit and get ripped off for the extra usage. You can often get a comprehensive plan that covers phone service and a high-data Internet plan for under $100 a month.

A service provider will tell you its particular plan is the best, of course, so the time spent talking to other drivers about their experience with wireless access is well worth it.

I work from the road a lot and have service with AT&T and Verizon. Verizon has much better 3G (fast access) coverage than AT&T on the road, but when I’m at home I use AT&T as my backup and the speed is excellent. I plug my aircard into a device from CradlePoint Technology and it creates a wireless network that I can access from multiple computers. This, by the way, is a great setup for teams.

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Some of the top reasons to get connected on the road include easy fuel optimization and fuel mileage tracking, personal education tools and fast access to social networking, news, weather, traffic, load searching, video conferencing, instant messaging and business training. Look for reviews of some of these features and their return on investment in future columns. n

Samsung’s N510 premium netbook line is a successor to the NC20, which was selected by Wired magazine as the best computer of 2009. The N510 models offer an integrated webcam, advanced graphics and an 11.6-inch display.Samsung’s N510 premium netbook line is a successor to the NC20, which was selected by Wired magazine as the best computer of 2009. The N510 models offer an integrated webcam, advanced graphics and an 11.6-inch display.

Big power in a small box

Netbooks are the hot trend in personal computers. Their small size and low price tag make them attractive to people looking for a portable computer that provides wireless access to the Internet and can do most computing functions.

Many netbooks weigh less than two pounds, last up to five or six hours on a single battery charge and have enough muscle to run Windows XP or Windows 7 comfortably. Some are just as powerful and have as much storage as full-blown laptops did just a year or so ago.

On the downside, netbooks have small keyboards and screens. They often don’t come with CD drives and are not spec’d for applications that demand a lot of memory, such as newer video games.

Most are priced from $250 to $400. Higher prices are becoming common now that some models blur the line between netbooks and notebooks (small laptops). Lower-priced models sometimes are bundled with wireless Internet contracts.

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
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