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Mobile Tech Choke Points Battery Life and Connectivity Can Mean More Than You Know



I started this post earlier today while sitting in a hospital with my mother who is suffering from lung cancer. My two sisters were out visiting long term and skilled care facilities and having conversations with various hospice services. Mom was sleeping comfortably. This process had been going on for two days as we continue helping my mother prepare for the next phase of her life. My two sisters aren’t mobile geeks like I am, but being able to be connected through smart phones using voice, text, and email has been a crucial method of communication these last few days, for us, and for other families on the floor of the hospital we are sharing.

Two mobile issues most geeks all know and complain about have hit home in startling relief these last few days. They are battery life and connectivity. Both weak links in the chain of mobile computing. When a connection is lost, or a battery drains out at a crucial moment when you’re in a hospital dealing with all that those circumstances entail, the frustration is not only amplified but the stress levels rise incredibly.

Personally, I’m in good shape as far as battery life is concerned with my iPhone because I have a Mophie Juice Pack and other solutions to keep me up and running. My sisters are not so lucky, and I’ve seen one other family on the floor dealing with low or no battery life issues this weekend as well. Here’s where the problems arise. My mother will be moving into a skilled care or long term care facility some time tomorrow. This means that in addition to my sisters and I communicating with each other, we’re spending time talking to insurance companies and administrators of various facilities as we help Mom make the choices she needs to make. Due to wacky and byzantine insurance regulations there is a time crunch when it comes to the decisions about choice of facility being made, which puts the pressure on. This has also been the weekend where we’ve had to have the inevitable and long conversations with many relatives and friends about Mom’s situation.

So, my sisters, and the other family we’ve become close to have been jealously guarding battery life on their phones. My iPhone, with external battery solutions, has become a conduit for all of us.

Now the easy solution for all of this of course is to have an extra battery or external battery solution, but as I’ve discovered these last few days, this is something most folks don’t think about until the battery is about to shut the phone down.  In reality, no one is really prepared for multi-day events away from home in crucial and stressful situations like this. They just creep up on you. Given how we complain about battery life on an every day level in geek land, my bottom line from my most immediate experiences on this issue is simple. Accurate battery life claims need to be advertised and in the case of manufacturers, like Apple, who don’t make swapping batteries a feature, that honesty becomes an even more crucial issue. When life slaps you hard and turns the world upside down, you don’t want to, or have the time to think about the tools that you use to communicate, when you’re depending on them as a life line. You just want and need them to work when you need them to. In my experience hospitals aren’t built with extra outlets for charging up electronics, so battery life becomes an important issue.

Regarding connectivity, the story has been similar but different these last few days. The hospital provides a WiFi network, but the connection reminds me at best of a large hotel. Flaky and unreliable are the best adjectives I can use to describe it.  I’ve been able to keep connected using a Sprint MiFi card, and have been able to provide connectivity to my sisters and the neighboring family when they need it. Unlike large hotels, where you’re paying through the nose for a broadband connection, I don’t think anyone finding themselves at a hospital expects to have WiFi issues resolved by staff, or for it to be a real priority for the hospital. These folks just have too much to do trying to do their jobs. So, as in the case with the neighboring family, when they need to do email or some other computing chore that required broadband access, they would head for a local coffee shop. Unfortunately normal life doesn’t stop for those helping a loved one deal with life and death issues. But, being out of the immediate hospital area is quite frankly not an easy choice, given the seeming randomness of visits by doctors and administrators with info that is important to making next step decisions. In out situation, one of my sisters and I spent a good deal of time researching facilities and services online. Again, we’re fortunate to have connectivity thanks to the MiFi card, but others who might not have those

And speaking of connectivity, never has a choice of network been more crucial. Both Sprint and AT&T are working well in the environs we’re dealing with, but Verizon is spotty to say the least. I doubt anyone ever thinks about connectivity at a hospital when they are choosing a carrier, and of course connectivity can be affected by all of the bits and bytes flying through wires and the air at hospital anyway. (As a side note, this hospital has no restrictions on cell phone usage and being online.) We’re fortunate in that we don’t mind tossing each other the best working phone to make a call. Heck we’re fortunate this weekend we’re all here to tag team through this part of the journey. But imagine if you were alone dealing with a loved one’s care and had to do this kind of communicating. I’ve seen several folks roaming the halls looking for a good signal, as well as choosing to take the elevators down and head outside, literally today standing in the rain to make a call. Again, imagine being away on a phone call when that doctor or administrator comes by for that crucial visit. A connection that keeps flopping between high speed and lower speed connections adds to the woes as it burns battery life faster.

I’m not advocating that hospitals change their ways. Goodness knows they have enough issues to deal with, and I doubt anyone wants to start seeing broadband charges start cropping up on their hospital bills. But in today’s connected world, companies like Sprint, Verizon, Novatel, AT&T and others who offer mobile solutions should pay attention in their marketing strategies to these types of circumstances. Face it, sooner or later, we’re all likely to be in a circumstance where this will be important to us. Morbid as it may be, offering an option where a family could stay connected (provided coverage is there) could be a seen as a huge relief to families facing extended challenges.

These circumstances are stressful and draining enough that no one needs to spend any time worrying about making a choice between getting that email back to the office,  or missing a crucial visit from a doctor. The number of times this weekend one of us would be on a phone out of the room and received a text that the doctor was in the room are too many to count. The number of times the text came too late, while not many, are too many even if there is only one. No one should have to worry about their phone running out of juice at a crucial moment. No one needs to rely on a geek in the room across the hall to provide them connectivity or a little extra battery life either.

In more pleasant circumstances in our ever connected lives, we hear and read the phrase “life line” tossed around describing our mobile devices. When you find yourself dealing with life and death issues, that phrase takes on an entirely new meaning.



  1. Bob Russell

    01/17/2010 at 9:25 pm

    Great post. It gives a whole new perspective to how unexpected events can make connectivity and multi-day battery very important. There’s a lot of room for improvement. I look forward to the day when you can pay one fee for a connection instead of one per device, but it is starting to look like a MiFi-like solution is probably about the best way to go (it would seem to cover all devices, including a smart phone with wifi.)

    I’m very sorry to hear, however, the circumstances of your thought exercise and experience – your mom’s health challenge. I pray that everything goes well for you, both in terms of her success in beating the cancer, and for all the surrounding issues that inevitably go along with these things.

    Best wishes.

  2. Genghis Khent

    01/18/2010 at 9:00 am

    Warner, sorry to hear about the situation with your mom. I had the same issues with my mom, then my mother in law more recently. We’re both at that age I guess. You are absolutely correct about needing to be there whenever a doctor unpredictably visits, the difficulty of having a cell phone connection within a large, solid structure like a hospital, and the flakiness of hospital WiFi (even at a brand new state of the art hospital like UCLA Ronald Reagan). I guess the bottom line is you can do something about battery life, but connectivity is problematic. Again, best wishes. Jeff

  3. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 10:34 am

    Warner, wireless signal strength and poor battery life should be the least of your concerns during a time like this.

  4. Paul Harrigan

    01/18/2010 at 1:44 pm


    My best wishes in this difficult time. I can certainly relate to the connectivity problems and the stress they cause. That is all the more reason to take care of yourself!

    Best wishes.

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