If you've ever travelled with your laptop on business then the following scenario will sound familiar. You've got a big show or conference to attend, A 56K modem is built into your laptop and the plan is to check in occasionally by connecting to the internet from the telephone socket in one of the meeting rooms. All sounds feasible, only problem is, when you get there the line hasn't been switched on or there are three of you fighting over the connection or worse still, it's some telephone adapter that has been derived from some backwater and you just don't have that kind of connection.
What now, well you're stuck, struggling to ask if anyone has an infrared mobile (and that's if your laptop is set up for that) or waiting until you get back to the hotel only to go through the same process. Vodafone, believe there is another way and it has released the Mobile Connect Card to prove it.
The concept is simple. Take the innards of a mobile phone, turn it into a PC Card for your laptop and then offer an easy to use software interface to work the whole thing.
Because of the nature of the beast, the install process has been made so easy even a five year old could cope with it. Load the CD, press go and then let the software do the rest. After a reboot, you plug in the card and then the Vodafone Mobile Connect panel loads, searches for a network, strength etc and you're then free to surf as you wish
The panel offers most things, but strangely not everything. Things that are included though are a connect button, a SMS panel, a usage monitor, email and web facility and access to the Vodafone instant messenger service (which we didn't know about prior to testing either).
The connect button sends you internet-bound. No settings have to be entered by the user since the card does it all for you and it's nice to know that you don't have to have worry about access codes or the local dialling numbers.
Once connected this gives you access to the email and web services and here you can either chose to use Vodafone proprietary mail software or merely link it up to Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes accordingly.
The SMS control panel allows you to access your text messages when your card is in the machine and from here you have control over sending and receiving text messages and general contact administration. Importing your SIM card's address book is simple enough and likewise you can do the same with your contacts on your machine as long as they are in .txt. or .csv format. The only disappointment here is that you can't get MMS messages, even from the Vodafone network itself we hope the rumour that Vodafone is working to enable MMS turns out to be true.
The whole system uses GPRS and that offers you the chance to pretty much use it across the globe and at present Vodafone has networks in 23 countries (all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and a few others).
Because of GRPS you are charged via the data you download rather than the time you are online. This certainly helps if you are surfing the web and reading a long document. For those that are concerned amount time and money, the software offers a usage monitor so you can keep track of everything.
One interesting thing that we didn't even know existed is the inclusion of Vodafone Messenger, and this acts like MSN or AOL IM. Of course with all these things, you have to know someone else on the system to be able to make it worthwhile and with yet another IM full of contacts maybe this program will get left out.
Strangely if you really wanted, the Mobile Connect Card does work with other networks, but why you would want to bother is beyond us as the whole point is a fast solution if you're a Vodafone customer.
Currently this service is only available to Vodafone monthly customers. We think that Vodafone might be missing a trick here by not opening it up to Pay As You Go users.
Some commentators believe that the PAYG customers wouldn't be ready for that sort of leap from it being the emergency phone in the car to becoming a useful business tool. We don't think so. It would allow you to keep tabs on exactly what you were using and could also make it easier in the business sense to expense the cards back to clients or the office.
That aside, for Vodafone monthly customers, this offers an excellent communication tool for when a network or wireless port can't be found. No more fighting over that one telephone connection in meeting rooms or show stands. Vodafone has devised a product that is great for diving in, getting your email and getting out again fast.