Archive for Thursday, September 9, 2004

Cell alternatives may improve staying in touch

September 9, 2004


I wasn't getting any cell phone "signal bars," so I headed to higher ground.

Suddenly, my daughter's face flashed onto my camera phone -- she had just tried to call me, and I missed her while I was getting erratic cell phone service near Kansas University's Memorial Stadium.

I tried returning the call. But Katy wasn't picking up. She must have had trouble getting service, too.

Or, with pregame tailgating hoopla in full swing in the parking lot just east of the stadium, she might not have heard it ringing.

"Are you looking for Katy? She's over there," Wint Winter Jr. told me as I passed near his tailgate party. I followed his direction and headed through the sea of KU fans near his tailgate party.

But Katy had moved on.

It was almost game time, so I thought Katy might meet me inside. I called her again and left a voice message.

Inside, I stood at the top aisle of the north bowl, hoping to spot my daughter as she came in, trying to remember what she was wearing.

It was probably blue -- like most of the 40,645 others there at the stadium.

Complex problem

I checked with a Sprint spokesman, Charles Fleckenstein, who told me that Sprint was pleased that I called and would see if anyone else was having a problem.

I told him my theory: Too many people were clogging up the available cell phone channels.

Fleckenstein pointed out it was a complex issue: The call went to a Sprint tower, then went to a land line, went to another switch, processed my daughter's number, went out to a Cingular tower and eventually had to be routed back to my daughter's phone.

"There are three different carriers involved, so there are any number of things that could happen," he said. "Networks are complex things."

He said engineers also could tweak a signal so that it could go into low geographic spots.

"If there's an issue that needs to be clarified or taken care of at KU, then we sure want those Lawrence customers to be happy, so we'll be fixing it," he said.

Satellite phones

I wondered what kinds of gadgets there might be out there that could help me locate Katy.

One solution would be a satellite phone.

Sat phones transmit to a network of communications satellites and don't rely on being within a cellular zone.

Iridium offers the only truly global mobile sat phone service, using 66 low-orbiting satellites around the world about 850 miles above the Earth.

But the phones are a little pricey.

For example, the Iridium 9505 Motorola basic package costs $1,700. Service is $1.49 per minute

Another network, Globalstar Satellite system, uses 48 satellites in its system, which covers 120 countries in most of North and South America, Europe, northern Asia and Australia.

Globalstar uses tri-mode phones that are similar in size to cell phones and operate in satellite, digital and analog modes. You can get a global Ericcson tri-mode phone for about $300. Service is between 99 cents and $1.55 per minute


I also thought about the possibility of two-way radios in such situations. You could turn up the volume to hear when someone was two-waying you.

Two-way radios are a step up from the walkie-talkies you might have used as a kid. They have a range between two and five miles. The two-mile units operate on the Family Radio Service frequency band and use 14 channels.

The five-mile units are on the General Mobile Radio Service frequency band, which use 23 channels and require an FCC license.

The cost for two-ways ranges from $30 to $100, depending on the bells and whistles.

You are here

Garmin's Rino 110 unit adds a GPS (global positioning system) unit into a two-way, which seemed to be the gizmo I was looking for. RINO stands for Radios Integrated with Navigation for the Outdoors.

The Rino 110 has Garmin's patented "peer-to-peer positioning" that sends your exact location to another Rino 110 user who is within two miles.

It has an LED screen that shows a graphic of where you are standing and where the other person with a second Rino 110 is standing from you.

"Whether you're lost in the wilderness or rounding up the family at an amusement park, you'll find this handy feature to be quite valuable," according to Garmin's promotional material.

The Rino 110 is about $169.

Making connections

High atop the north bowl, I continued trying to reach Katy by phone as the game started Saturday. I could see others in the stadium walking around, using their own cell phones to locate one another.

Suddenly, my phone rang and Katy's voice came on the line.

"Dad! Dad! Where are you? ... Wait! I can't hear," Katy said.

The Jayhawks had made an interception and the fans around Katy were erupting in cheers.

"OK, where are -- ?"

"I'm over by the 'Ray Evans' sign! ... Hello? Katy?"

I looked at my phone and groaned.

There was a red box in the display that said, "No service available."

I put my phone away and watched the jubilant KU defense come off the field. At least something was working right in the stadium.

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