Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why are aircards so hard to use?

Aircards is my vernacular at least for a "cellular modem." A data connection device that uses a mobile phone network to connect to. Usually, you plug them into laptops. For a long time, they were in the PCMCIA format, and some are now in Express Card or whatever that is called, but increasing numbers of cardless laptops (like mine) mean people are using lots of USB aircards now. But despite the cable nightmare, that's not the issue. Hell, I used one that required a dongle to go from USB to serial, and the adapter cable was 6 ft long! That was sub-optimal, but it's not the problem. The problem is drivers. They are harrowing. Terribly difficult to install, often requiring multiple restarts. Arbitrary support of different platforms. Setup is basically impossible unless you already know what you are doing. They are too feature packed, so try to take over your WiFi and other connections that work fine. And often, they just don't work. Is it the driver, the hardware, the account? No one can tell. And the best part is that I have a solution. I cannot implement it as I do not have a giant electronics factory. But anyone who does is free to fix it. Here it is: make it an ethernet bridge. I might have used the wrong term. What I mean is, you plug the card into an ethernet port. No drivers at all. It says "I am an ethernet cable attached to a DHCP server, attached to the internet. Anyone care?" The computer sees... a wired ethernet connection. These exist in some forms; I use a wifi ethernet bridge to get an iMac Rev D (driver issues, with WiFi this time) onto the network from the second floor. Yes, you'd need to be able to set it up. Easy. Just make it like your router, and talk to it on a specific IP address. And it cannot charge over ethernet. So? Put a battery in it, which some aircards already have, and charge over USB. Leave it plugged into USB if you want. Cannot be a lot more expensive, if ANY more expensive, than the current hardware, plus driver development costs run to zero. Fire 90% of those guys tomorrow (gotta keep supporting old products). The issues I pointed out above are killing this market. There is no one I know who has seen it (even "I'll never carry a cellphone" types) who is not totally impressed. At least a dozen people I don't know at all have approached me to ask what it is (on the bus, in airports) and apparently are so interested they might have bought one. Etc. Embedding, which they are working on, is plausible but the driver and setup issues make them so hard to use that I cannot see them going really mass market till that's fixed.

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