View Full Version : Backcountry Telecommute???

05-14-2007, 11:06 AM
Like many here, getting into the backcountry during the late Spring, Summer and Autumn months is important to my sense of well-being.

My current occupation(s) and relationship lend me a somewhat enviable degree of freedom. While I'd just as soon leave electronica and other trappings of the rat-race behind when I head for the backcountry, all too often one thing or another lands on the calendar and spoils what could have been a three or four day ramble.

Being able to get work done (spreadsheets, documents, invoicing, occasional email and telephony) from <u>anywhere</u> at <u>anytime</u> is increasingly becoming a front and center priority of mine. I no longer want to be restricted by the tether of "local" wireless cell-phone and wireless broadband internet access. If I can spend a couple weeks in the remote wilderness areas where there is no cell reception and still "check in" and get business done...then so much the better!

I haven't read the small print, but the cost of satellite telephony (http://www.globalstarusa.com/en/airtime/voicepricing/) seems very reasonable. I'm thinking a lightweight/robust laptop, a satellite phone and a solar powered battery charger for them would allow me to fulfill my backcountry telecommuting desires. I'm fine with carrying some extra poundage if it means I get to enjoy more time hunting, fishing and hiking.

Does anyone on the board currently have a setup that they are using that allows them this luxury? Specs?

05-14-2007, 11:06 AM
Mirror post on 24 Hour Campfire. (http://www.24hourcampfire.com/ubbthreads/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1431385&page=0#Post1431385)

05-14-2007, 11:14 AM
I haven't severed the cell tower tether yet, but here in Alabama you have to work hard to lose cell reception. I use my XV-6700 (http://www.mobiletechreview.com/Verizon-XV6700.htm) constantly when hiking. It has a terminal services client, so I can reboot client servers, kick off SQL Server jobs and perform other admin functions while kicked back in my hammock after a nice day paddling a kayak. I also like being able to get weather radar during torado season here. It's also got a 1.3 megapixel camera/vid cam built in which saves carrying a camera. If I had to stay tied to a traditional PC in case of client issues or outages, I'd never get into the woods.

I can see where satcom would really let you get away.

Woods Walker
05-14-2007, 07:35 PM
One guy I know carries this Palm thing. Another has something called a Blackberry (spelling). Seen the Palm work with his windows computer and the operating system looked windows/Microsoft office compatible. Don't know about that satellite thing. Would be kinda nice if they did but thinking it is cell phone only stuff.

05-14-2007, 07:44 PM
Woods - The Crackberry and other PDA's aren't satellite capable (at least all the ones I've seen). Still connected to the cell tower tether and you'd never want to do any real "work" on those small screens.

05-14-2007, 08:08 PM
The 9.6kbs uncompressed and 38.6kbs best case could be kind of limiting. Will the applications you use tolerate those speeds and the latency associated with two way satellite connectivity?

05-15-2007, 02:07 AM
One of the big reasons the satellite phone costs have come down is because a voice call is so simplistic. They get you on data transfer. Some charge well over a penny per kilobit. If you try and run a business from the data side of the satellite equation, make sure you have found a real solid plan. Otherwise, just checking the weather and news a couple times per day would add up to a fortune over a month.

Also Bushcraft, if you use a VPN (virtual private network) to get into your company's LAN, it may not work at all. VPN's require a constant stream for security purposes, and most sat uplinks have a time delay (as a matter of physics) that will constantly drop that connection. You would need to establish a non-vpn website to upload/download to/from and your staff would have to send data there. Check with your network administrater, but I don't think this has changed lately.

05-15-2007, 02:56 AM
The system he is loooking at uses LEO satellites, which don't suffer from the ridiculous latency issues.

Both lovelight and cooper bring up very good points, though. You should figure out what kind of bandwidth you will need to do your work. If you decide you need high bandwidth then you could go with the broadband satellite systems, but they use HEO satellites and latency is a bitch. Any chatty protocols, like VPNs, will really suck. They also need dishes, which may or may not be "mobile" depending on your perspective.

btw - it has been a few years since I've looked at broadband satellite; i've heard there has been work to try and mitigate the latency issues.

05-15-2007, 06:55 AM
The ranch has hi-speed satellite connectivity. Plenty fast for (most of) my needs but there is no way I'm lugging a heavy dish and power source around the backcountry!

It appears the handheld speeds would severely limit what I could reasonably expect to do.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to:<ul> Roll out of the sack in the morning Get the fire and coffee rolling Connect with the internet and do a batch upload/download of e-mails and some market data while making breakfast Sign off Respond to 5-30 e-mails and do whatevever work needs to get done on the laptop Make a few calls as needed Reconnect with the net and perform another upload/download Shut down, pack up, and move out. Repeat mid-day and evening during "work" days[/list]

05-15-2007, 09:14 AM
http://cell-phones.listings.ebay.com/Acc...ListingItemList (http://cell-phones.listings.ebay.com/Accessories-Parts_Antennas_W0QQfclZ3QQfromZR11QQsacatZ20343QQs ocmdZListingItemList)

one of these for your device and cell tower locations on you map will help make the best of conventional cell service. You will still need to route your travel to get into coverage, though

05-15-2007, 10:00 AM
If you restrict yourself to batch email uploads/downloads you should have no problem with a lower bandwidth solution like globalstarusa. Just avoid attachments.

05-15-2007, 11:04 AM
Avoid attachments...hmmm...there's the rub.

05-15-2007, 12:07 PM
Bushcraft - I often work from remote sites and will be doing that again in central AK for most of this coming summer. Cell phones don't apply. We have used various sat phones for years and are currently reviewing the best options which sometimes change from month to month.

If you're talking a smaller camp, without a generator and a dish, it appears the best you'll be able to do is the relatively slow data transfer through Iridium or Global Star. Note that Global Star's system is degrading rapidly and is anticipated to have only limited function later this year. In the last few years, Iridium was the most dependable, but sometimes has poor voice quality and iffy data transfer. I've never been impressed with data transfer using either. You basically need to work off line and use their compression or burst capabilities as much as possible to more-or-less email files back and forth. Both have their own front-end systems to do that. Despite claims, I hear full net access and browsing doesn't work very well for some of the reasons discussed.

It also takes a few of the moderate sized solar panels and good sun to keep batteries charged for a notebook and sat phone if you use them much. The roll-up Bruntons work fairly well but are expensive. You will probably want extra batteries for any serious use, assuming you will have some cloudy days. And it is challenging to get more than a trickle of a charge with a panel on your pack. Figure on having to leave an array of panels up some days to completely recharge.

We'll probably be using an Iridium system from a fly camp with a light generator part of the season. Should have direct experience on the latest performance in a few months.

05-15-2007, 12:11 PM
Thanks Poel...outstanding...keep us posted!

05-15-2007, 12:11 PM
I would suspect LEO satellite service may end up determining where you set up camp to obtain line of sight.

05-15-2007, 03:57 PM
Great thread. I have similar flexibility in my location, but my backcountry constraint is family time, not connectivity. As a result, my thoughts along these lines are more about what a vehicle portable camp looks like than a man portable camp.

I will say that I've been amazed at just how much mobility my PPC gives me. I have Sprint's version of the 6700 mentioned above. This past weekend I rode my motorcycle from Bend, OR out to Greybull, WY and back. On the way back, I was on US20 the whole time. I fully expected to be out of data range much of the time, including my time in Greybull. What I found was that I had data connectivity every time I stopped. These aren't wilderness areas, but they are fairly rural areas.

05-15-2007, 05:15 PM
Again, the type of vpn and type of sat system has a lot to do with this. "How fast" the satellite system is, is different from the issue of delay. Most vpn's will not tolerate the lag; however minute it is. The delay is a different measurement than the collective down/upload rate.

find a friend who is using satellite at home for inet access, and take your laptop to his.her house. Access your firms lan from there and see how long a conection is maintained. That would be a baseline to rate the rest of the possible systems that you could use.

For email primarily, you could also see if your corporate outlook account can be forwarded to a gmail, or yahoo address. Then, you could retrieve most things from there without vpn coming into play.

You'll also need to start a push to Kifaru for a 1000denier padded pocket to contain a dish /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/smile.gif

05-15-2007, 05:38 PM

Thanks for the info...vpn isn't at play. I can work at the ranch and it has satellite internet.

The bog time on the send/receive of emails with attachments seems like it would be problematic.


05-15-2007, 08:04 PM
And I think that "time" in download would be equally challenged by fees relative to file size. Trouble is, Allen, that you are trying to do something that the communication industry has been highly reluctant to promote for awhile. Hence, the premium for data transfer over wireless services.

"We" are keeping it prohibitive right now for a few reasons. 1. We don't want to shell the cash to provide the infrastructure to do it well right now. 2. We're saving it for a "new" "shiny" product when everyone wakes up and realizes that DSL actually sucks by current standards. 3. Making such access so limited drives a premium for the few who demand such performance.

Satellite capability is robust and profound. But they are treating it just like they did with fiber-to-the-curb of years ago. Rather than advance the art, it's more lucrative to "up-play" the antiquated for as long as possible; then introduce a long-since viable technology as 'new'.

One other thing to consider with regard to Blackberry, PocketPC, and Treo technology; ala Verizon wireless: they use CDMA technology in Verizon W network, as opposed to the GSM that most others use. I've found the cdma of Ver. Wireless to be vastly superior to gsm regards to data transfer. This statement only applies in the U.S. Gsm is the only way to fly for the Int'l traveler. Verizon is ahead of their time in applying adequate data tranfer for realistic expenses. Btw, I don't work for Verizon; these are just my observations.

The XV6700 Pocket PC (I have and am going to sell, as I can't use it's vast ability) is liable to do ALL you are trying to do. I've downloaded Kifaru and 24hr, as well as email + attachments with it as a matter of routine. It can also work in excel, outlook, etc. The backpacking businessman would do well to investigate this device as a reasonable splitting of differences between keeping in touch and not humping the whole office. It can also mitigate the vpn issues that you have stated are not a concern.

What I hear from the travelers over Sat. tech is this: Nokia 'anything' is still benchmark for signal strength, and data integrity. Xtra Batteries are the norm. Motorola (despite their generally untarnished reputation) are not building a stout product in either the Sat. or the PDA markets--they quite suck.

Also heard throught the Grapevine that Garmin is dabbling in this issue; wouldn't that be interesting??!!

05-16-2007, 02:39 AM
The best you can do with cellphones is: 1) Mark the base stations on your map 2) Climb up on a hill with line-of-sight to the nearest base station (lacking hills, climbing up a tree would be helpful too. And, if you do, please send us a pic of you working with your laptop up there /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/smile.gif ) 3) Get an external antenna, preferably a directional one (unlike the omnidirectional in the link above)

Even if you manage to get sufficient signal strenght and quality (LOS), the base station might simply be too far away. Ie, the signal trip time is too long, and out-of-bounds for the design/setup of the receivers. You operator might be able to give you some figures on this. The operator should also be able to provide you with the locations of the base stations and a detailed coverage map (if they bother, and don't consider these too much of trade secrets).

That said, yes it's enviable if you can work from the wilderness. Otoh, the last thing I'd like to bring along on a backpacking trip is my work &lt;g&gt;. Also, I'm not at all happy with those damn towers ruining the view of something that might otherwise look somewhat like wilderness.

05-16-2007, 07:10 AM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BGAN ???

05-16-2007, 07:51 AM
Thanks DP. That does appear to be a step up from the last incarnation I saw. Will check it out further.

Besides cost, part of my skepticism involves the equatorial location of the satellites. A few years back similar sat phones were often difficult to use in AK and mountain valleys in the northern Rockies due to the low angle. Had some interesting 4-wheeler rides searching for signal.

05-17-2007, 12:58 PM
Might check http://www.onelasvegas.com/wireless/WA.html with washington wireless to see what they have to say.

Maybe you could make this a feature article for some hunting magazine, get sponsors and such--be "the guy" who works from hunting camp.

Might trigger a complaint on how long you're "allowed" to stay in a particular Wilderness Area though. And don't forget, you can have all the high-tech stuff in a Wilderness Area you want, as long as it doesn't have wheels or use a fuel-powered, shaft-turning engine.