REVIEWS: SkyStream Wireless Receiver

Tired of having to connect up to a modem or telephone to send and receive may need a wireless receiver!

By Rick Shaddock

Many of us were first introduced to wireless communications on the old Star Trek show, when Captain James T. Kirk took out his communicator and uttered those now famous words, "Beam me up, Scotty!"

We can't quite beam people up (yet), but the 95LX can send and receive wireless messages on the go, in hostile (alien) environments.

Wireless communications networks such as SkyStream by SkyTel Corp. and EMBARC by Motorola, Inc. enable HP 95LX users to receive wireless messages, electronic mail, and other types of critical information directly in their 95LX at any time, in thousands of cities and towns across North America. This article focuses on SkyStream. Following issues will focus on EMBARC and other wireless products and services.

The Hardware Graphic

The SkyStream system consists of a SkyStream receiver, the HP Mobile Data Link Cradle that connects the receiver to the HP 95LX palmtop PC, and Mobile Data Link (MDL) software for managing the messages. The integrated 95LX and MDL SkyStream can be carried in a coat pocket.

The SkyStream one-way radio frequency modem is powered by one AA battery. The receiver connects to the 95LX in the cradle via the serial port to download messages. The unit measures 3.4" x 2" x .75" and weighs 3.5 ounces. It has its own 32K buffer memory to store messages even when not connected to your PC.

 A switch allows it to beep or remain silent. A green LED blinks when messages are in memory and rapidly when the buffer is full. A red LED flashes to indicate low battery or being out of range. It can receive individual messages, group messages, or news from information subscription services.

As shown in the photo above, the accessory cradle combines the pager and palmtop into a single, consistently styled unit. The palmtop slides in from the left, the pager from the right. You can plug an AC adapter and serial cable into the back of the integrated unit.

Using the cradle does make the 95LX bigger than pocket-sized. An alternative is to use two serial cables with a null modem adapter, or the 4x4 2' cable (EduCALC, Stock #2624) to connect the pager to the 95LX. This lets you carry the 95LX and the pager in smaller pockets, then cable them up when the pager beeps. It is also possible to connect the SkyStream receiver to any desktop computer's serial port.

Mobile Data Link Software

SkyTel's software comes on a ROM card. MDL.EXM is a program to receive messages from the pager, and SKYACCS.EXM, a program to compose text messages to be uploaded by modem. The software can be copied from the ROM card to the RAM disk. Messages flow from the receiver to the 95LX whenever the Mobile Data Link software is active. If the 95LX is off, it automatically turns on to receive the message, then turns off again.

For more detailed information on the hardware and software, see "The HP 95LX and the Motorola SkyStream Receiver," page 4 of the Fall 1991 issue.

SkyTel's 800 # Support Services

Suppose Joe is on the road with his HP 95LX, MDL and SkyStream receiver while Sue is back at the home office. She can send messages to Joe at any time, in thousands of cities and towns across the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Pacific Rim (other locations soon to be added). Sue can utilize a variety of mnemonic toll-free services to contact Joe.

800-SKY-PAGE (1-800-759-7243)

For numeric messages, Sue calls this 800 number from any touch-tone phone, enters Joe's Personal Identification Number (PIN) and presses "#". She enters her phone number and hangs up. Sue could have entered up to 20 digits of information, or special codes to trigger special Prefix equivalents Joe enters in his 95LX. Sending digits: "122" could cause "122 Call office now!" to display to Joe in MDL on the HP 95LX.

Wireless One-Way Communication:  Graphic

800-SKY-WORD (1-800-759-9673)

Sue could use her PC's modem to send text messages, electronic mail, update appointment and phone book files, to-do lists, memos and spreadsheets. She could use any communications software to log on, enter Joe's PIN, and enter a message up to 240 characters. SkyWord Access software is specifically designed for sending messages via SkyTel, including such features as setting up a group of PIN numbers to call up to 40 recipients. Sue can also specify a day and time to deliver the message to Joe. She could issue a wake-up beep for Joe at 6:00 am. Sue types in the message, presses (F5), and SkyWord Access automatically dials Skytel and transmits the message. Sue could have used the SkyWord Access 95LX version with her modem as well.

About one minute later, Joe's SkyStream receiver beeps and the green LED flashes in response to its unique number. (The beep can be silenced via a switch.) If Joe is busy, the message is stored in the receiver's 32K RAM memory buffer, ready to be retrieved when Joe turns the 95LX on and presses Alt-COMM to run the Mobile Data Link Software. If the 95LX is already running Mobile Data Link, the program will flash "receiving message". Joe reads the message by highlighting the desired entry in the index and pressing (ENTER).

Sue can code messages to tell the System Manager compliant Mobile Data Link software to automatically add the text to a MEMO, PHONE, APPT file, or import the data into a Lotus Spreadsheet. When the message enters the HP 95LX, it is stored as a temporary file. The first few characters of the message are compared against Joe's prefixes. If there is no match, the message is placed in an incoming message file so Joe can read it and manually handle it as regular E-mail. For example, Sue could update Joe's Appointment Book by sending:

APPT 92/12/3 9AM-10AM "Board Meeting" "Note: Don't forget to bring your seminar notes."

800-SKY-GRAM (1-800-759-4726)

If Joe has this service, and Sue has only a touch tone phone, she would reach a National Dispatch Center operator to send an alphanumeric message up to 80 characters to Joe. Sue would have to spell out the specific characters for the N.D.C. operator to send, so automatic phone and appointment book updates are not suggested.

800-SKY-TALK (1-800-759-8255)

If Joe has the Voice Mail service, Sue can leave a verbal message. Joe's receiver beeps to signal him to call SkyTalk to hear Sue's message.

800-SKY-MEMO (1-800-759-6366)

If Sue does not have an HP 95LX, she can purchase an Alphamate keyboard unit from SkyTel, or other third-party software for sending text messages by SkyWord to Joe.

800-SKY-USER (1-800-759-8737)

Sue or Joe can call for a customer service representative 24 hours a day.

Comparison Chart: EMBARC AND SKYTEL: Graphic

 How Wireless Messaging Works

When you send a message or digits, you dial a computer which uploads the message by satellite dish to one of two satellites in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles in space--such as Westar IV. The satellite retransmits the signal in a wide band to about 200 (and growing) receiving disk stations across North America. Each receiving station rebroadcasts the signal on a specific frequency (931.9375 MHz) to all SkyTel pagers within its range. Each message is preceded by its PIN "calling card" signal. Joe's SkyTel receiver may actually receive thousands of calls a day, but does not beep or flash until one for his PIN is detected.

SkyTel and EMBARC

SkyTel and EMBARC currently service different communications niches, although both can send personal e-mail. SkyTel covers more cities and emphasizes the short messages (up to 240 characters) and immediate delivery to individuals or groups of 40. EMBARC emphasizes less immediate delivery of longer messages (such as 1500 or more bytes) to large groups, and services such as news, sports, and weather. SkyTel can be accessed through a touch tone phone to an 800 number or a modem, while EMBARC is accessed by modem.

You could use the same cradle, but would need the EMBARC software for your PC and HP 95LX. Although the hardware is identical, you would need another receiver programmed to responding to EMBARC's specific frequency. Their services may overlap more and more in the future when SkyTel releases Sky-News some time next year.

Three Experiences

Excerpted below are comments from a team of three Palmtop Paper contributing writers who evaluated the SkyStream system; Robert Williams, Marty Mankins, and Dave Goodman. In future issues, The HP Palmtop Paper will be discussing various aspects of this technology and examining possible real world uses. We also hope to try out Motorola's EMBARC service and contrast it to our experiences with Skytel.

Dr. Robert Williams' Comments --

I'm a physician, and I love the automatic Appointment update feature, which can be used to change my schedule instantly.

My office uses a PC with a modem and the Skyword Access software to send the schedule update to me. The changes are automatically inserted in my appointment book. My office also forwards Lab results and other key information on patients while I am running around.

My office secretary can now better coordinate my activities and get important information to me instantly -- with absolutely no additional effort on my part! My office can more effectively act as a base station where hospital personnel, patients, and families can contact me and get fast attention.

One of the challenges of being a physician is that the database of medical knowledge is growing very fast. I can see wireless information technology becoming instrumental in keeping physicians up-to-date in vital areas. For example, pharmaceutical companies could quickly keep me abreast of newly-discovered benefits or side effects associated with individual drugs."

[Robert Williams is a Physician and contributor to The HP Palmtop Paper.]

Marty Mankin's Comments -

I had read a lot about the SkyStream (and Motorola's NewsStream) and was impressed by the descriptions of how it worked. I had an even greater rush when I actually held the small receiver in my hand - 3.5 ounces! I put the HP 95LX in the Mobile Data Link (MDL) and put the SkyStream receiver in the other side. I needed the help of the printed documentation to send messages at first, and I only sent numeric messages until I loaded the SKYWORD software on the 95LX (which allows text messages to be sent via modem).

The "SkyTalk" option lets you send voice messages to an E-mail box. Once a message is left, the system then sends a coded numeric message to the pager. The coded message tells the 95LX user that they need to call the system and retrieve the voice message left for them.

I am eventually getting used to the excitement of seeing my messages sent out, without being connected to a telephone line!

I've been using SkyStream for the past few weeks and I'm very impressed with its ability to meet my on-the-go communications needs. The more I use SkyStream, the more I feel in touch with the world.

[Marty Mankins is the publisher of Take It With You, The Newsletter for Palmtop Computing. Contact: Perfection Applied, 454 West 1010 North, Orem, UT 84957, USA.]

Dave Goodman's Wireless Scenarios

SkyStream from SkyTel Communications is one of the new wireless communication services available for the HP 95LX. By combining a pocket pager with a palmtop computer, you've got a system that allows you to receive text and numeric messages wherever you are. Here are some possible wireless scenarios:

You're at the airport and your pocket starts beeping. You take out your 95LX and SkyStream pager and open the 95LX as it powers up and displays the message your secretary just sent: "Return to ofc. You forgot your passport!"

You're with a prospective home buyer who wants to know what houses are in the area for less than $150,000. You call the office, and they send listings right to your 95LX.

You're about to enter a boring meeting. You page yourself (timed delivery five minutes later). The pager goes off and you're outta there!

Sending a message to a SkyStream pager is so easy a child could do it. All of the SkyTel access numbers are toll-free, so the sender doesn't have to worry about the phone bill or search for spare change.

[Dave Goodman is a Software Project Manager for a Northern California software publisher. His CompuServe ID is [72330,130].

Plans for the Future Around the World

SkyTel, the pioneer of nationwide messaging, will soon link countries around the world for global messaging. Developments to offer SkyTel service are now under way in Europe and South America.

Comparison between EMBARC and SkyTel