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AT&T offers wireless Internet

Technology could benefit businesses, emergency services

Forget about being plugged in. You don't even have to do that anymore.

AT&T Wireless Services in Medford is offering wireless Internet access for the Rogue Valley, so users can do everything from surfing the Web to getting their e-mail while away from a phone jack.

The tool is aimed at businesses or public agencies whose employees spend most of their time in the field, said Anne Root, the AT&T market manager in Jackson County.

People can ask, `Is it a gadget or is it a tool?' Root said. Implemented into a business with a plan behind it, it very definitely is a tool.

The technology is called Cellular Digital Packet Data and an overlay system has been installed on cellular towers throughout Jackson County.

Wireless Internet allows mobile access to the Internet. It comes in three different packages. People can have it installed into a laptop computer, can get a hand-held Palm Pilot or can have a cell phone with the feature.

The cell phone -- with a small screen and without a keyboard -- is the least user-friendly of the means of getting on the Net.

Computer users have always been able to hook into the Internet by connecting their modem to a phone jack.

Wireless Internet offers key advantages over that, Root said. For one, wireless Internet can be left on all the time, leaving a phone line available. It isn't as clunky as having to deal with phone cords. And people on the road don't have to deal with finding phone jacks.

Like a trucker on I-5 -- where's he going to hook in? Root said. A police officer isn't in a situation where he can stop and hook up anywhere.

Some of the first customers of the product could be the fire and police agencies in Jackson County.

Pam Johnson of Southern Oregon Regional Communications said that several of the departments in Jackson County are adding computer-assisted dispatching and are taking a strong look at the wireless Internet.

With wireless Internet, police officers on the street can access databases from their patrol cars -- useful when looking up a license number or a name.

Maps could eventually be transmitted over the systems to patrol cars or ambulances.

Willis Planer of Mercy Flights said the technology could prove useful in everything from reaching employees to getting information about hazardous chemicals to a spill site.

Johnson and Planer said there are some concerns. Johnson said that the cellular phones have dead spots and Planer said the cost -- up to $800 -- could be a problem.

This Palm Pilot provides wireless access to the Internet, and is drawing interest from public agencies and businesses alike. - Photo by Bob Pennell