Racing mail

2019-03-07 04:10:01

By Paul Marks IF YOU find the dream of a mobile office always turns into a nightmare of broken modem leads, incompatible standards and tricky hotel telephone exchanges, help may be at hand. A British company thinks it can make life much easier for the world’s 14 million laptop-wielding executives Scientific Generics of Cambridge is trying to convince phone companies and cash machine makers to adopt its idea of Internet “Pit Stops”. The company wants to create a network of kiosks set up at railway stations, hotels and airports where sending and receiving e-mail would be as easy as plugging a card into a socket. “The process of wiring up a laptop to send or receive e-mail can take up to 10 minutes—and that’s a lot of time to waste just checking to see if you’ve one e-mail,” says Phil Collins, telecoms project leader at Scientific Generics. The comical sight of laptop users struggling to hold their computer with one hand and plug it into data sockets on payphones with the other inspired their invention, he says. “The whole idea of Pit Stop is quick, convenient access.” To use it, you would write e-mails at your leisure and save them on a flash memory card in your laptop’s card slot. Then you would simply take the card out and plug it into a Pit Stop terminal, which would send the e-mail and retrieve any incoming messages. “You carry your incoming and outgoing e-mail on a flash memory card and plug it into a machine not unlike an ATM,” says Collins. The Pit Stop terminals themselves might use various methods to connect to the Net, such as a 128 kilobits per second ISDN line or the forthcoming 10 megabits per second Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology. At these speeds, the download and upload time would be considerably faster than the 9.6 kilobits per second wireless data transmission offered by existing GSM digital mobile phones. However, cellphones will soon be capable of sending data at much greater speeds. One technique currently being tested increases speeds to 100 kilobits per second, and even greater speeds will be possible with the planned third generation Universal Mobile Telephone System, for which standards are still being set. Nevertheless, Collins says cash machine firms are particularly interested in using the technology, although he would not name names. “They are very positive,” he says. “The parallel between information and money is very powerful in this respect. The idea that your e-mail is as accessible as your cash is key, because it might be just as valuable to you if you’re a business person on the move.” Similar projects include British Telecom’s plan to place Net kiosks in railway stations —but these do not yet allow users to transfer files to and from their own computers. Collins admits that a sensible solution might be for Pit Stop technology to be incorporated into BT’s kiosks, but stresses that no deals have been done. “If flash memory cards prove to be a popular option we would certainly incorporate it,