Wireless and Mobile in Asia

I spent the last 3 weeks traveling in Asia—2 weeks in the Philippines, where my wife, a pediatrician, worked at charity clinics. Then we played tourist in China for a week. We went through Hong Kong entering and leaving China, and I got a good look at mobile computing in this unique part of the world.

Although the only Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) or notebook PCs I saw in the Philippines were those that I and another member of the medical mission team carried (he had both a Palm III and a Windows 98 notebook), mobile computing is doing just fine there. The Philippines bills itself as "The Cell Phone Capital of the World" and, based on my observations, nearly every middle-class Filipino has a cell phone. And they don't just use them as telephones! I often saw Filipinos (especially young people) bent over their cell phones, with both thumbs flying. They were using their Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) Short Message Service (SMS) feature. Evidently, the local cellular providers allow unlimited use of SMS between local subscribers; the result resembles a mobile version of AOL's popular instant messaging (IM) service.

The Hong Kong airport shops displayed PDAs—including Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) Jornada 548 and various Palm models. On the flight from Hong Kong to Beijing, I sat next to a businessman using a Jornada 548; he liked it but wished it had a faster method to enter text. I saw no one using PDAs or notebook PCs in Beijing and Xian, although I saw ads for a locally manufactured PDA that business people reportedly use. Like the Philippines, China has a GSM-based cellular network, but the SMS feature hasn't reached the level of popularity it has in the Philippines.

I took along a Windows CE-based NEC MobilePro 770. Although it's quite a bit bigger than a typical Palm or Pocket PC, this device offers a keyboard I can use for typing. It also includes Pocket Powerpoint, which I used during presentations at San Carlos University and the University of Batangas (both in the Philippines). (I'll have more on international travel in upcoming Mobile & Wireless UPDATE columns in Windows 2000 Magazine, so stay tuned!

One tip: On this trip, as on past trips in Africa, I read my email at Internet cafes. These private establishments typically provide a room full of PCs—often older models running Win98—equipped with an Internet connection and Web browser. My ISP provides a Web-based email interface, and other folks I travel with use HotMail accounts—either way, we can use PCs at Internet cafes to check email and send messages without encountering the complexities of overseas telephone systems. The cost is usually quite reasonable—at a hotel in Xian, China, for instance, the fees worked out to about $6 per hour.

I'm still digging through my email messages; if you wrote over the past 3 weeks and haven't heard from me, please wait a few more days. I'll get to everyone as soon as I can. It's great to be back!

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