By Columnist
updated 9/1/2006 7:35:30 PM ET 2006-09-01T23:35:30

This week’s mail folder is jammed with questions about wireless access and cell phones.

Our first one comes from a Stumped Tech from Texas:

I work at a plant nursery and one of the ideas we have been toying around with is the use of PDA’s for inventory. Having them networked to send the inventory back to our server. The problem we have is that the nursery is on over 75 acres of land. How do you make that work and keep the cost from flying through the roof?

The easiest solution is for everyone to gather their data “out in the field” then come back to one central location and sync their PDAs to one computer.  Not very high-tech but it will work.

Wi-fi is not a great choice.  You will probably have spotty coverage over the area you need.  Very wide-area Wi-fi standards are months — even years — away.

But, if cell phones work everywhere on your 75 acres you should think about trying smartphones, which are a combination of a cellular phone and a PDA.  Cell phones have a much better range of outdoor connectivity over large areas.

There are plenty of great smartphones on the market – some more reasonable than others.  Make sure you choose a cellular provider with a great signal in your area.  Then see what smartphones they offer.  You should be presented with an array of great choices.

Bstarr from Washington, D.C., wants to know:

What’s the best cell phone and service to use on metro rail systems that go underground?

Unfortunately, you don’t have much choice in the matter.  

I checked with Pat Anastasi, a senior editor in MSNBC’s Washington D.C. bureau, and he says that the Metro there has a contract with Verizon to provide underground cell service.  For the record, Verizon has the contract for New York’s subways system as well.

If you’re a Verizon customer – you’re all set.  If not, you’ll probably have to wait until you get off the train to make a call – or ask one of your fellow passengers if you can use their Verizon phone.

Mark who hails from Kenner, La., has another high-speed question:

How can I get a better signal with my Verizon broadband air card?  Any better cards or antennas out there?

You might find someone who will sell you an antenna or some other whiz-bang gadget that could miraculously allow you connect everywhere on the planet.  More likely you’re going to have to do some legwork to find the best location to use your wireless card for each situation you encounter.

If you’re trying to use your wireless card indoors, try moving your computer (and card) near a window.  If that doesn’t work, try using them outdoors.  Many structures actually block wireless signals because of materials used during construction. 

As a last resort, you may have to seek out a completely different location to use your wireless setup. The bottom line is: If the signal from your wireless service can’t get to you, unfortunately, you’ll have to go to it.

Finally,Gary from Garden City, N.Y.,  has a home theater question:

I’m looking to put together a home stereo/theatre system. I liked the look of the Abby and Noogi speakers you reviewed, and I wanted to see what receiver you would recommend, a mass market like Onkyo/Denon or something else like a Rotel? I wanted to keep it reasonable, like around $5,000 for everything.

Abby speakers, like Noogi (the Abbys’ little brother) are made by a true craftsman.  Terry Cain of Cain and Cain creates incredible sounding, single-driver speakers.  You can read my original review here and here .

Abbys retail for $1,500 a pair (more for special finishes).  Terry’s matching subwoofer (Bailey) runs $1,500.  Noogis are $475/pair delivered.  That means $3,700 or so for a 5.1 speaker system.  6.1 or 7.1 would obviously cost you a little more.

As for a surround-sound receiver, I’m not going to tell you which specific brand or model to but, but I would check out all of the mass market brands you can find in your local electronics supermarket store.  I would also check what’s available from the online-only companies like Outlaw Audio.

Remember, Cain and Cain speakers are very, very efficient and need only a few “clean” watts to sound really awesome.  So, spending lots of money for a high-powered home theater receiver is crazy.  Think in terms of 20-50 watts per channel (unless your room is the size of the Grand Canyon).

Last but not least the CD/DVD deck.  I recommend shopping for an all-in-one machines from many of the major companies, including Denon, Pioneer and Samsung.  It should be capable of playing DVDs, CDs, SACDs and DVD-Audio disks.  There’s also a lot of buzz about players made by a new company named Oppo. 

When you add all the cables and wires you need and you should be able to come in below $5k.  Good luck!

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