Jeff Dray reflects on the role of mobile networking in his work as a roving IT support pro and shares some of the mobility “rules” he’s discovered over the years.

After years spent supporting mobile devices and more years as a user of mobile data products, I felt it was time to note down some of my experiences. In some ways, mobile working is a liberating experience. But if you’re not careful, it can follow you all the way home.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in our User Support blog. It’s also available as a PDF download.

1: Portable equipment breaks

If you keep your Blackberry or PDA in your shirt pocket, don’t lean over to look at things — it will fall out. Whether it falls onto a hard floor or down a toilet, the effect will be the same. If this does happen to you, take plenty of pictures. At least you might be able to publish it as a PDA “unpacked” article.

2: Synchronization is essential

A daily backup of your mobile device means that vital information isn’t lost when the inevitable happens (see #1 above). If your diary is maintained by the office, it is essential to download the next day’s appointments.

3: Big stuff disappears

If you are going to lose, leave behind, or forget something, it isn’t usually something minor — it will be the AC adapter, USB cable, or the item itself.

4: Murphy’s Law applies especially to mobile devices

In the UK, it is known as Sod’s Law, but the effect is the same. You will drive out of network coverage just as you are getting details of a brilliant money-making opportunity or vital information about a key project. Know your geography as far as it relates to network coverage and find somewhere to stop if you think you are about to lose connection.

5: It can be tough to get a lunch break

Learn where the coverage black spots are and use them for uninterrupted breaks. This isn’t laziness; people need their breaks and should be able to enjoy them in peace. There’s always voicemail.

6: Communications will fail you at the worst time

Jeff’s Law of Mobile Data Communications: The quality of a stable connection is in inverse proportion to the urgency of making it. This means that any trivial or unwelcome communication will have no trouble getting through. If you are being chased by wild dogs or angry customers, the display on your device will be the unwelcome message “No network” or “Emergency calls only.”

7: The runaway stylus is gone forever

It is possible to render an expensive piece of equipment useless by losing or breaking the 50p stylus that comes with it. There must be dozens of them in my car, but without emptying it and ripping all the carpets out I am unlikely ever to see them again. Take care of them.

8: The phone is elusive

With the advent of Bluetooth headsets, I have discovered a new phenomenon that takes me back to a quandary I last experienced back in the 1960s, before the age of Caller ID. Sometimes when a phone call comes in, I can hear the phone ringing, but I don’t know where it is. I can answer it with the Bluetooth headset but don’t have the chance to see who it is. By the time I have disinterred the phone from under a pile of tools, jackets, and pieces of machinery, it will have gone to voicemail. I like to be able to see who is calling before I answer, so that I can greet them by name.

9: Information is at your fingertips… and it’s impossible to read

Sometimes the PDA’s capabilities exceed my own. I carry a device that has all the service manuals for every piece of equipment we sell, the entire global phone and e-mail listings for the company, our call logging system, and all the other Windows Mobile apps we know and love. Sadly, this is all shown on a two-inch screen, making spreadsheets, parts diagrams, and the global phone list all but unusable. Yes, you can zoom, but it is a slow and laborious process and nigh impossible if the sun is shining. (It sometimes does here.)

10: You may be perennially on the clock if you don’t stand firm

All mobile data equipment comes with a vital component, the off switch. A friend of mine complained that his boss would call him at all hours of the day and night, stating that he had the right to do so because the mobile phone was supplied by the company. My answer to this is simple: When you finish work for the day, turn it off. When you go to a pub or restaurant, turn it off. When you go to bed, check that it is off. Turn it back on when it is time to start work again. Remember, your time is a marketable product. Don’t devalue your skills by giving it away for free.

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