I spend two hours hunting for a solution.
I have two books that need to be written this summer: my Mac OS X VQS revision for Leopard and my annual mystery book (which I can’t talk about until September). In order to write them, I not only need my computers, but access to the Internet. That means I need to work in my office all summer.
Or does it?
One of the things I did last year when I had to buy new test mules — the computers I run software on when I write about the software — was to replace my desktop PC and Mac with laptops. The idea was to make my office more portable, so I could work somewhere other than in my office at home. Both laptops have wireless cards in them, so they communicate wirelessly with any wireless network. But neither have any other Internet access solution. In other words, they rely on being able to access a network to get on the Internet.
But nowadays, there are Internet solutions that don’t require wires. So, theoretically, I should be able to get the computers on the Internet in a place where wires don’t go.
Like our place at Howard Mesa, which is entirely off-the-grid.
Now if you’re not familiar with the phrase off-the-grid, it’s pretty simple. It means that it has no access to any kind of publicly accessible utilities, such as electricity, telephone, water, gas, or cable television. People who live off-the-grid have to provide for their own utilities.
Our camping shed at Howard Mesa has a solar electricity system with two solar panels, four batteries, and an inverter, providing AC and DC power. (We have a 1000-watt gas-powered generator to provide additional power when we need it, but we haven’t needed it yet.) We have 2100 gallons of water storage and haul water to it with a borrowed 450-gallon tank that fits in the back of a pickup truck. We have a propane tank that’s serviced by a local gas provider. We use cell phones. We don’t have television, although I suspect that we could pick up a signal with a standard TV antenna.
I had heard a rumor that an ISP provided wireless Internet access from an antenna on top of Bill Williams Mountain, which is about 15 miles south of our place. We can clearly see the mountain from our shed — which is a good thing, since line-of-sight visibility is required. The only problem is, I didn’t know the name of the company that provided service from that location.
I started with the Williams, AZ Chamber of Commerce. The way I see it, if a company offers a service in Williams, the CofC should know about it. Right?
Wrong. The guy who answered the phone was too new in Williams to know about it. He asked someone else and she said that she tried the service but couldn’t access it. She said Qwest provided it.
So I spent at least 30 minutes tracking down a phone number at Qwest to ask about it. Of course, they didn’t have any service at my address and obviously knew nothing about wireless from Bill Williams Mountain.
I tried the other two ISPs listed on the Williams CofC Web site. Neither of them provided wireless service.
Maybe the antenna on Bill Williams Mountain was a myth.
I went to the Verizon Wireless Web site. I am a Verizon subscriber and my phone works okay up at Howard Mesa. (Not great; just okay.) What solutions did they have?
They had a good solution. Actually, a few that would work. The one I liked was the USB “modem” that made it possible for any USB-compatible computer to access the Internet with Verizon service. It would cost me $129 (after rebate) to buy with a 2-year contract and then $59/month in addition to my existing Verizon plan. Ouch! That was a lot more than I wanted to spend, but the benefit is that it would work on either laptop — or even my desktop machine — in a Verizon service area. Verizon has excellent service in Arizona, so it looked like a very workable situation.
On a whim, I sent an e-mail message to Bluewire, which provides wireless Internet service to my house in Wickenburg. (We’re beyond fiber-optic cable or cable television, so we need wireless access.) Did they know of any similar provider in the Williams area? I got my answer an hour after posting the message. They didn’t know of any provider up there, but why not try the WISP Directory?
So I surfed on over and got on the Arizona page with a few clicks. Bluewire was listed (of course), along with one called CommSPEED, based in Prescott Valley, AZ (and Iowa, if you can believe that). I called. And guess what? They had the antenna on top of Bill Williams Mountain!
While it isn’t clear whether I’m within range of the antenna, they’re willing to come up to Howard Mesa to check it out. If all goes well, the install cost is $49 and there’s a 3-month startup special for 512Kbps access for only $29/month. After that, it goes to $39/month. But get this: they can put my account “on vacation” when I’m not there, so I don’t have to pay when I’m not at Howard Mesa. So I can use it all summer, go “on vacation” and turn it back on during months I’m up there.
I signed up for an account. With luck, I’ll be able to meet with them some this month to see if I’m within range and, if so, they’ll set me up.
Otherwise, I’ll be going with the costly but effective Verizon plan.
Updates to come.