Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

Summary: So what do you do when you can't look things up on the Internet to plan your day?

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware, Wi-Fi

The beach at Mullet Bay on Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, West Indies. (Photo: Jason Perlow)

Apparently, while I was on vacation last week, Apple launched its new iPhone 4G at WWDC.

So let me get up to date -- as if Gizmodo and Engadget hadn't already done it for us a few months in advance -- its got a high-resolution screen that is comparable to the iPad's in overall pixel resolution, two cameras, an upgraded OS, and is still stuck at AT&T.

Did I get that right? Great.

I guess I didn't miss much, although apparently Steve Jobs had issues with his demo. Ouch.

While the rest of the tech industry was postulating about the epic battle brewing between Apple and Google in the mobile and desktop computing space, I was busy lounging at the beach and drinking Caribs and Ti Punches on the Dutch and French West Indies island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, with virtually no mobile connectivity whatsoever.

This got me thinking about how much we take our connectivity for granted, and just how much we've adapted our lives to using it.

Switching from having ubiquitous 3G email and browser access as well as broadband Wi-Fi in the United States to none in the West Indies is an immediate shock to the system for a 40-year old male technologist, but I can imagine it's probably pretty traumatic for a Millennial, who for the most part are completely joined at the hip with texting, smartphones and mobile social networking.

I'm not a texter -- I hate the entire concept and really have no idea why people find it useful -- but I do use a lot of mobile email and mobile web sites, as well as Twitter and FaceBook on my Droid.

Having traveled to the Caribbean before -- my wife and I went to Grand Bahama in December of 2008 -- I know that part of the world is not anywhere near as advanced as the instantaneous "must have my email and information NOW and all the time" state of mind in which we live in the United States and in other very developed countries.

So my wife and I left our Droids at home, and we brought along an old AT&T basic Samsung phone, which we had unlocked a few years ago for using in GSM-capable countries, which is what most of the world uses for regular mobile voice service.

I also brought my basic Wi-Fi iPad, in the event that I had the occasional opportunity to visit an Internet cafe or some other hotspot (of which there are plenty in the major towns) and suck down my email. I was collaborating with Scott Raymond on a Flash versus QuickTime performance piece right before I left on vacation, and we wanted to make sure our copy was good before it published the week I was away.

It was actually two days before we visited TELCell in downtown Philipsburg and purchased a pre-paid SIM card so we could make the occasional phone call back home. I had Skype credit and my iPad can make calls with it, but there was no guarantee I could get good enough bandwidth wherever I went if I could get Wi-Fi at all, so we just got basic cell service.

Apparently, Verizon allows you to roam in certain countries with data service if you get an extended roaming plan, but it is prohibitively expensive if you are just going on vacation for a week, even just for voice calls. It was cheaper just to get the $10 SIM card with $20 of call credit than to pay $1.99 per minute for voice calls and God knows-how-much for data service.

As it turned out, we didn't really make much use of the cell phone, as life on the island is pretty laid back and nothing really transpired at home while we were gone. We used it once or twice to make restaurant reservations, but that was about it.

If we had to make local calls, it was a bit comedic, because TELCell is a Dutch company and if we wanted to call the French side of the island, such as the towns of Marigot or Grand Case (where all the best restaurants and most of the action is)  we had to make an international call which costs two or three times as much a local Dutch Sint Maarten call and actually gets routed through another island, Guadeloupe, where the main telecom operations center and switchboard for the French Antilles is.

This is quite ridiculous if you consider the entire island only has 75,000 inhabitants and is 87 square kilometers in terms of land mass -- you can circumnavigate it in about an hour and a half, traffic permitting.

Email and data was definitely what you would call a best effort. The owner of our timeshare at the Guana Bay Beach Villas had a Wi-Fi access point installed in his house which permitted us to sync up once or twice a day, but the network speed wasn't anything close to a basic 1.5 Megabit US Cable Modem or 512K DSL connection, let alone what I have at home, which is a 100Mbps broadband connection with Optimum Online.

This was complicated by the fact that the weak 802.11g signal only reached the outdoor pool area, which attracted huge amounts of mosquitoes that will eat you alive. I have about two dozen bites on my arms and legs to prove it.

So the most I could tolerate using email or browsing the Internet at the pool (slowly, VERY slowly) was for about 10 or 15 minutes a day. It was just enough time for the iPad to suck down my emails, for me to run and retreat back into the condo and type my replies in the Mail application, and to run back outside (usually the following morning) and upload them back and suck down the next batch of responses.

I could have brought my iPad with me when we went out for the day, but I was worried that with the rising crime on the island due to the slowing economy, there was a possibility that our rental car might be broken into when we were on the beach or out having lunch or dinner, so I left it locked up in the condo rather than walk around with it all day.

Additionally, the weather was in the 90+ degree range and the inside and trunk of the car basically turned into an oven during the day with exposure to full sunlight, and I didn't want to risk cooking my $600.00 toy.

Sint Maarten/St. Martin residents can get Internet access installed in their homes, but their broadband infrastructure is only just now really being rolled out and many parts of the island -- such as where our timeshare was -- are just too remote to have anything better than satellite Internet access, which is very slow. 1Mb ADSL? 50Mb FiOS? Fuhgeddaboudit. Try more like 128K-256K with huge ping latencies.

In a few years time, the situation on the island might very well look different, as 3G towers have been installed on many of the mountaintops (presumably with the intention to use LTE or WiMax in the future) and we noticed a lot of sidewalks were being busted up and dug up on both the Dutch and French side, along with lots of big red cable spools which were left on the side of the road, presumably for fiber optics or trunked copper strands to improve the telecom situation.

So what do you do when you can't look things up on the Internet to plan your day? Well, you get up late, you eat breakfast, go to the beach for a few hours, eat lunch at the cheap beach BBQ shacks ("Lolos"), and wander around the local towns until you find something you like that you want to shop for or have dinner at. Talk to people and ask about where to go and what to do. It sounds primitive, but that's exactly what you do when you're on vacation in the West Indies.

And entertainment? Multimedia? It's called drinking and eating, sailing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling and watching the topless sunbathers (note to American families -- EVERY beach on St. Martin is pretty much considered to be topless, not just the fully nude/clothing optional ones, so be advised if you're planning on vacationing with your kids).

Television on Sint Maarten/St. Martin as with most of the Caribbean and the West Indies is still in the 1990s -- no HD, unless you are staying in one of the exclusive resorts or hotels with a satellite feed or are a permanent resident with DirecTV or Dish.

I got to watch the Mexico vs. South Africa's World Cup match on the condo's old tube set on Univision (which has a nice free iPad/iPhone app for keeping up with scores) in Spanish one morning. That was about the extent of my television for the week.

And I was happy.

Do you live on "Island Time" like I did last week? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Wi-Fi


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • **NOT** "comparable to the iPad in pixel density"

    it's <i>comparable to the iPad in pixel <del>density</del> <ins>number</ins></i>.
    OS Reload
    • Density is number of pixels divided by screen area

      The area of the iPhone screen is much smaller than the iPad so it's density is much higher, approximately 7 times larger to be correct (roughly [9.7/3,5]<sup>2</sup>)
      OS Reload
  • sounds like a dream

    I, too, don't text. My wife and I also refuse to pay for data plans. I spent a couple months down in the Bahamas and the BVI's and I love the lack of connectivity. I spend all day on email and find it quicker to phone someone instead of the back and forth through email.
    • Texting. Here's why.

      Why text? Well in a loud room so you can communicate without room noise making it impossible to hear a phone call or be heard. In a quiet room, so your conversation doesn't bother others or be overheard.

      The not being overheard part, this is why every teenager is a texting expert. They really just don't want mom and dad listening in.
  • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

    sounds like people don't really need so much to keep themselves buisy. They don't know they have to spend all there money on hd and 3g and now 4g and now 3dtv hhhhmmm who's the real dummies!!!
  • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

    When we vacate we promise to answer email once a day and most days we do that. We bring a netbook that can connect 4 ways. The netbook is also a good place to dump pictures since there is usually not a high speed line avaliable. We have a GSM phone for emergencies (nobody has the number).
  • Yeah.... you didn't miss much! :D

    About Apple iPhone 4 announcement, that is. Oh.... except their SECURITY DEBACLE, WiFi flop by the King of InFomercial Marketing, that normally orchestrates and rehearses their WWDC to perfection. So yeah they failed on a few things!!! :D ....like your privacy!

    ...and this Samsung screen slap in the face is the first time since their little snafu with proclaiming IBM PowerPC they proclaimed themselves the Uber Intel Killer, that got proved bogus. Only to turn around and stab IBM in the back over it. Remember those bogus speed comparisons that got proved wrong? :P

    Now Samsung (who supplies their IPS screen) exposes the truth!


    Who does Apple think supplies their A4 chips? Did they forget that Samsung not only Fabs them in the same plant side by side with their own A8 chips that look exactly the same under microscope, but other parts as well!

    On top of that what about their Memory? ....oh they forgot that part too! lol... ;)

    Anyway Jason you didn't miss much! ...I'm just wondering if any black hat hackers were digging out those numbers from AT&T's site and got your info, what you'd think about that! :D
    • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

      @i2fun@... Your question to Jason, of course, is a hypothetical one since his iPad lacks the 3G capability necessary for an AT&T wireless account service. Still, I'm sure he would voice "some" displeasure over the ramifications concerning this security breach.
  • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

    Yeah... I've liven on an island for 32 years now. Today is just another day in paradise... for me, a gear head geek with all the gadgets. I love my techie stuff.
    • You Lucky Beach! :O

      @Micrahard Actually I know what it's like living on an tech spoiled Island in the middle of paradise. I lived on a 100' yacht at the BBC in Newport Beach for over 12 years. Yeah it was rough.... lol... cruising to Catalina or up North Alaska way and of course a TransPan and Mexican Pacific Coast yearly trips. Just another day in Paradise.... eh?

      Life can certainly be a beach for the spoiled ones like you, I know! :D
  • iPad is not allowed to run in St. Marteen

    You know, the iPad shouldn't even be allowed to run in St. Marteen, because the people there roam around topless.
    Roque Mocan
    • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

      @Roque Mocan
      Yeah, my wife said almost all the men were topless.
      But what's that got to do with an iPad?
  • I worries me a bit

    That so many who really love to escape from the tech revolution will lose that opportunity through modernization.
    • For some reason being a workaholic is not a problem to the masses

      Sad but true.
  • Vacation means vacation

    You are supposed to get away from your daily routine and have fun. You aren't supposed to go on vacation to do exactly the same thing you do every day at home and at work.
    Just have fun and stop working during your vacation.
  • Only place where The Netherlands border on France

    Always a nice riddle at parties... :-)
  • Carry your iPad: Fashion Industry note !

    In the 1800's when watches were a luxury, a good suit had a "fob pocket" for your "fob watch". Now iPods, iPhones and iPads are the rage.
    Result: backpacks have a hole for earphone leads. Jackets with arm pockets for a Nano. For phones, you can get a belt pouch. Problem - iPad users don't want a backpack or satchel. They need a decent sized pocket, and I've yet to see clothing with such an option.
  • True indeed

    Actually without 3 g life is dull. But in countries like India, 3G has just reached and that too is a big thing around here. I understand Sprint has released 4G networks around US, right..?

    I made a article about it, see here -http://www.tonz.net/blog/general/what-3g-means-to-me-a-short-realisation-of-technologys-influence-on-life/
  • RE: Without 3G and HDTV life's a beach

    With the TV everywhere and the ability to get DISH Online these two sure ways that DISH can give a consumer the best value in the pay-TV industry. I work for DISH and I use both these features. This is a great way to get the most out of that hard earned cash. Go to www.dishonline.com for more info.