Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Guglielmo, can you hear me now?:

About a month ago, before my wireless phone frenzy, I had previously ventured into the world of wireless telecommunications, in the hopes of being able to talk to somebody. Anybody.

This time it was walkie-talkies. I bought a set of FRS/GMRS units, with a 7-mile range capability on 22 channels, with 38 privacy codes. Headsets and all. The plan was to use these while cycling, hiking or skiing in West Virginia, on the road, and simply between home and the grocery store about 2 miles away. The fact that we would not be paying on a per-call basis for communications with these units was a plus. "....Honey, can you get a half-dozen eggs, too? Oh yes, and we are all out of Red Man chaw. I need a couple of tins...."

Then I made my first mistake. I read the instructions. Tucked away in the fine print, there was a little note stating that to operate radios in the GMRS bands, an FCC licence was required. And they were nice enough to give the URL for the FCC website. Which was where I found out that a fee of $70 is required for each family using these units, good for five years. After a cumbersome amount of registering for ID numbers and passwords etc., I put in my application, hesitating some. Hmm. The up-front costs were mounting. I was irked that the packaging hadn't mentioned any of this.

Then I made my second mistake. We tried to use the units. They didn't seem to transmit very well at all beyond about 300 yards. I tried them line-of-sight, too. Perhaps those particular units were bad, but by this point I was fed up. Back to the store they went. No Family/General Mobile Radio Services for us.

Now I just have to find out how to retract the licence application before the door gets broken down at 3 AM by FCC jackboots looking for illegal walkie-talkies... but I can't imagine enforcement is an issue, since the vast majority of consumers will never even bother with a GMRS licence, if they are even aware of the requirement.

And that's when my frenzy really took off, with the idea of looking at cell-phone-based walkie-talkies. Which is what all this really is anyway - being able to live out my childhood fantasies of having really good walkie-talkies. ...gosh, childhood dreams are hard to shake.

Mobile phone portability update: yes, my calls take a lot longer to go through now. I get a disconcerting silent gap in my calls before they finally connect.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!... Hello? Can somebody tell me why my cell phone doesn't work?"