Even though business travel used to be easy -- you could just pack a bag and a briefcase and hit the road -- staying in touch with the office was hard.

But now, new technology gives us plenty of ways to keep in touch. And if staying connected is part of your job, it helps to know where you can access the Web and read your email, even if it means a little pretravel planning.

How you'll connect to the Internet will vary with your hardware or service agreement. Your laptop or PocketPC might have a connection to a CDMA-based PCS wireless network like Sprint's ( S), or you may just have a generic 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card.

CDMA and Wi-Fi access coverage areas are expanding, as business high-speed wireless is becoming more in demand and employees need connectivity to the office network and email while away. Hotels, airports, bookstores, coffee shops and now even whole cities are gearing up for online connectivity.

At Your Service

The promise of high-speed, always-on mobile broadband Internet access is finally beginning to be fulfilled. CDMA wireless Internet service is offered by many carriers, including Cingular, Verizon ( VZ), T-Mobile and others. These plans require that you install their hardware into your laptop, or purchase a separate mobile device and subscribe to their service.

Some carriers, like Sprint, offer GPS capabilities with some mobile broadband devices, allowing you to search for points of interest without having to input your current location.

Since this is a very hot technology revenue-wise, carriers are expanding their CDMA coverage areas very quickly. Check each carrier's Web site for the most updated coverage maps. If you haven't committed to a plan yet, use these maps to help you decide which vendor has the best plan for you.

To view Russell Vines' video take of today's small-business travel segment, click here .

Go Generic

You might not even need a dedicated CDMA wireless network to get on the Internet.

Some services, such as Sprint's PCS(SM) Wi-Fi Access and Cingular's Wi-Fi Connect, can find and use generic 802.11 Wi-Fi hotspots, such as those found in coffee shops and airports. Neither vendor requires that you have their broadband PCS hardware installed in your laptop, only a login account, which commonly runs $30 a month or $9.95 for 24 hours of access.

Sprint's Wi-Fi Zones locator directory shows you where you can piggyback onto an existing Wi-Fi network.

However, your generic Wi-Fi hardware may not be compatible with your service provider's network. For example, Sprint's PCS(SM) Wi-Fi Access network now only works with the slower, 802.11b 11-Mbps equipment, but is being upgraded to coexist with newer standards, such as the 802.11g 54-Mbps rate.

(Here's a list of 802.11-compatible hardware that can access Sprint's Wi-Fi Zones network.)

Cingular's Wi-Fi Connect plan allows a LaptopConnect customer to connect to Cingular's network of public Wi-Fi hotspots, currently found across all 50 states and every major city. To see a list of participating locations that offer Cingular Wi-Fi service, check out its Hotspot Locator .

An excellent nonpartisan site to find PCS coverage areas , along with comparative info about each company's plans, is PCS Wireless Service.

Note: If you use a VPN to access your company's network, you'll need to check with your IT department before using a CDMA-PCS service and follow your company guidelines for launching VPNs when accessing corporate information remotely.

Some types of VPNs can leave your connection open even after you log off of CDMA networks, which creates a big potential security hole, as an unauthorized user could then access your company's network.

Wi-Fi to the Highway

If you don't have a CDMA Internet account with any of the PCS service providers, but have a laptop with built-in wireless, like Apple ( AAPL), Lenovo, Dell ( DELL), or Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), or just have a PCI 802.11 card that lets you attach to your home or business Internet, you can still find places to connect.

That's not too hard these days, as many public areas and businesses offer Wi-Fi access as a standard feature. And U.S. hotels are starting to get the word that high-speed Internet access should be complimentary, not fee-based.

Several Web sites can help you get info about where you can connect, and the list is growing rapidly. JIWire has an exhaustive listing of hotspots, and lots of good info about setting up your wireless gear and addressing security issues. It also has a great directory of which hotels offer Wi-Fi.

Two other finders are Wi-FiHotspotlist.com and WiFinder . WiFinder also has an extensive European coverage section.

Citywide free or inexpensive Internet access is also entering a new era. Municipalities from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Mexico City have plans on the drawing boards, ranging from inexpensive neighborhood Wi-Fi hotspots to free wireless access for anyone throughout the entire metropolitan area. Google ( GOOG) and EarthLink ( ELNK) are teaming up to build a $15 million Wi-Fi network across San Francisco, and the proposal is entering final negotiations. EarthLink's faster offering would cost $20 per month, while Google would provide a slower, free service financed by advertising.

Keep in mind, though, that actual citywide implementations are plagued with problems like dead spots, weak signals, slow access and regulatory issues, which will delay real-world access for some time.
Russell Dean Vines is Chief Security Advisor for Gotham Technology LLC and a bestselling author. His most recent book is The CISSP and CAP Prep Guide: Platinum Edition, published by John S. Wiley and Sons.

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