Toronto firm offers remote desktop over cell networks

TORONTO – Canadian firm Route1 Inc. Thursday introduced a technology that allows a user to remotely access a desktop or server using cellular networks.

While remote access is not new, Toronto-based Route1 claims it is the first

to do it over the same networks that are used for cell phone connections.

For roughly $200 a month, Route1 will supply a user with its MobiBook PRO, a device slightly smaller than a laptop, and the means to access another computer remotely. The Mobibook, which is a rebranded version of Psion Teklogix’s Netbook PRO handheld computer, comes with an 800×600 touchscreen display and full qwerty keyboard. It weighs 2.4 lbs and runs Windows CE.Net 4.2.

Once Route1’s host software is installed on the PC the user wants to connect to, the user can access that machine via the Mobibook with full access to its contents.

Route1, which also has an office in New York City, went public about eight months ago. It has spent $7 million towards the development of its product, according to the firm’s CEO Andrew White, which should begin shipping in the coming weeks.

Connectivity for the product is achieved over any of the 2.5G cell networks (for Bell it’s 1XRTT over CDMA; for Rogers, EDGE over GPRS). Provided a user is in an area with cellular coverage, he can access a remote machine. Alternatively, if the user is in a hotspot, he can use Wi-Fi to achieve the connectivity.

The same technology can be applied to equipment or machinery that is controlled by a computer, said White. An operator could remotely login to a factory machine, or access a computer-controlled security camera using the device.

The company opted for a software approach to remote login rather than a browser, which is common to other types of remote desktop access. The main reason for this was security, according to White: an Internet session is easier to hack than packets transmitted over a cell network.

The Mobibook and host machine use PKI certificates to achieve authentication and allow the remote session to start, said Simon Blake Wilson, a math PhD and Route1’s chief security advisor. Mobibook is preferable to using a laptop, he said. If a laptop is stolen, its data is stolen with it. “With Mobibook, there is no data on the device,” he said. “That data remains behind the corporate firewall.”

Jeremy Pollard, a manufacturing consultant based in Shanty Bay, Ont., is one of a handful of users that has been testing the device. “I’ve been using it to stay in touch with my desktop,” he said. Frequently on the road, Pollard writes custom software for the manufacturing industry. “Because of what I do, I need to have access.”

Over the six weeks he has been using the device, Pollard said the best connectivity results are during Wi-Fi sessions in hotspots. Delays of up to a second are possible when using a cellular connection.

Peter Scheffler, a product manager with Route1, said that connection speeds should improve and eliminate lag times as Canadian cellular connectivity moves towards 3G. Bell Canada, for example, is currently testing its next-generation EVDO network in the Toronto area, with plans to roll it out across the rest of the country over the next year.

Route1 is also working on a version of its software that would allow users to access remote computers with devices other than the MobiBook.

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