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Mobile over the years

Gather round, it’s time for the old person to tell a story about how things used to be!

Mid-Late 1990s: no such thing as mobile, I stuck in my 3com PCMCIA card and dialed somebody like CRIS or long distance into my own ISP’s modems. I have flip phones through US Cellular and they frequently fall back to AMPS.

Late 1990s: I get an AT&T “One Rate Digital” TDMA phone for the low price of $99/month. I can text but I don’t see the point. I saw one fancy US Cellular data modem plugged into a flip phone and thought “not bad”. My cutting edge friends in Silicon Valley had Ricochet modems which was the equivalent to a wireless dialup modem. For work I carried an alphanumeric pager to which NOCOL/Nagios sent short messages to like “%SYS-1-UPDOWN: Frame-Relay1/0/13.0 is DOWN” when shit broke. At the movies I overhear some girl behind me ask “why would anyone carry both a phone and a pager anymore?” I think for a while I may have even carried two cell phones, one on US Cellular (CDMA) and another on AT&T (TDMA/GSM).

Early 2000s: I move to Tulsa, have TDMA voice phone service. 802.11 wireless arrives! On the road, still no internets. Here I had a Nokia 6300-something. I started actually texting people for real purposes.¬†For Nagios I try out this e-mail to SMS text message thing and become conditioned to breaking out into a panic when I hear the Nokia text tone at 2 AM. When I was at TU, I bought a Handspring with an Omnisky Minstrel modem. I don’t even remember what data service I subscribed to, but I could see greyscale internets! It was really cool to sit on my friend’s couch, proceed to use my wireless modem and ssh to one of my ISP’s modem banks and feed it AT commands to make an outbound phone call to my friend’s house phone, then giggle while he answered the phone and realized what I had done. Other friends replayed parts of the Matrix, messaging their friends on Yahoo or AIM moments before knocking on their door and scaring the shit out of them.

2004-2008: 802.11 wireless/ethernet in most hotels. Mobile internet consisted of a USB dongle connected to a small external antenna, war driving and camping out in parking lots leeching from whoever was around. State of Texas offers free wifi at most/all interstate rest areas, brilliant thinking to get tired travelers off the road; I frequently used them on my many road trips across the state. Theoretically my Nokia 6310i could do data, but it was so old I don’t think anyone supported it. For work on-call duties I used a Verizon CDMA data card in a Panasonic Toughbook which worked pretty well all around Austin. Here I learn the amateur radio nerds have been bouncing TV off satellites and packets off the moon since forever. Go to Amsterdam to work, slap in a new pre-paid SIM at the airport and now I have a local number.

2008-2009-ish: sometime I got a 3G iPhone and had an unlimited data plan. Mobile use consisted of taking photos with my camera, downloading to my laptop, connecting my phone, emailing to flickr or whatever. Somehow this was better than leeching wifi with a special antenna. Wireless is everywhere. Going deep into the Nevada desert meant my phone dropped all the way down to GPRS, with the little “o” icon for data connectivity. Pretty impressive that I had at least minimal data in the middle nowhere.

2009: now I have an iPad and iPhone with a camera, still no way to tether data. At least now I can plug my compact flash cards from the camera into the iPad, upload photos that way. I can go pretty much anywhere except rural Oklahoma and get some sort of 3G or EDGE data service. Voice? what’s voice?

2010: I needed tethering for on-call duties, got a Verizon Mifi thingy. This is actually pretty cool for laptops, press a button to turn it on, throw it in your bag, open up your laptop. I think I even get AT&T 3G service in parts of Death Valley, if not EDGE in Furnace Creek. Oddly enough in Oklahoma I can get Verizon CDMA service for Mifi, but zero cell service for my AT&T iPhone. I get a AT&T pico-cell thing for my parent’s house, full voice+SMS+MMS service. I have enough 3G contraptions I don’t even care if places have wifi or not. Work causes my text usage to explode, making me get an unlimited text plan.

2011-2012: everything is mobile. There’s an app for everything. I never talk to anyone except my parents on the phone. I consume lots of email but never send any. I write blog posts about how I used to sit in the parking lot with 802.11 antennas.

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