Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared by Kathleen McGinn Spring for the March
13, 2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Geeks on Call for Wireless Dummies
Who you gonna call when your home computer makes a noise like an
airplane with a dying engine; when your monitor flashes "save all
data! shut down imminent!"; when your almost-complete thesis/year-end
report/novel suddenly disappears? One choice is Geeks on Call, a
six-year-old Norfolk, Virginia-based company born of the frustration
of masses of folks with an intense love-hate relationship with their
As the owner of two Geeks on Call franchises, Michael Petriello has
heard the cries of any number of crazed, desperate computer owners
with buggy machines on their hands. But now he is hearing a new cry, a
more pleasant call. Long dependent on their computers for everything
from work assignments to late-night games of solitaire, more of his
customers are seeking to break free of their cords and cables, and are
longing to surf from their couches, and indeed even from their patios
and pool decks.
"We’re getting a lot more calls for wireless," says Petriello, based
in Manasquan. "We’re installing three or four systems a week." So
popular is the new computing option that a poll of several hundred
Mercer Chamber members at a recent meeting determined that a talk on
wireless was at the top of their wish lists. In response, the Chamber
is holding a meeting on "Wireless Computer Technology: Selection,
Services, and Security" on Wednesday, March 23, at 7:30 a.m. at the
Mercer County Community College Conference Center. Cost: $30. Call
609-406-1665. In addition to Petriello, speakers include Arthur Rosner
of Strand Management Solutions and George Ascione of Lighthouse
Petriello, who can often be found enjoying the wireless connection at
the Starbucks in the Mercer Mall, spent 25 years with Verizon, and the
many Bell companies that preceded it. A graduate of Rutgers’
engineering program (Class of 1975), he holds a master’s degree in
telecom management from Stevens Institute. He went to work for New
Jersey Bell in 1978 as an engineer "in charge of cables and manholes
and pole lines" and worked through some 20 jobs in 25 years, ending up
as executive director of enterprise marketing for Verizon. After a
Bell career that took him to Freehold, Hopewell, Newark, Red Bank,
Washington, D.C., and Brussels, he, "along with 23,000 other people"
took a buy-out in 2003 after 25 years with the company.
"I loved it," he says of his Bell career, which followed a roller
coaster of divestiture, merger, restructuring, reconfiguration, and
rightsizing. "I felt that I was living history."
But when the ride was over, he was sure that he had had enough. "I
went skiing in Germany and in Switzerland, and thought about what I
wanted to do next," he says. He knew he wanted to do something of his
own, but he also knew that 25 years within Ma Bell’s house had bred a
need for a degree of structure. A franchise, he quickly decided, was
He chose Geeks on Call, he says, at least in part because of its
growth potential. "When I bought my first franchise in May of 2004,
there were 150 franchises," he says. "In the next eight or nine months
it doubled in size." Another attraction for the former marketing
executive is that the young company is "marketing driven."
Geeks on Call keeps headquarters in close contact with each of its
franchises. Calls for service go directly to headquarters
(800-905-GEEK) and from there are routed by zip code. Petriello’s
office is in Manasquan, but his franchises cover 15 zip codes in
central New Jersey. Towns in his territory include Hamilton, Trenton,
Ewing, and Hopewell.
Petriello makes no service calls himself, but rather relies on two
employees who travel around in PT Cruisers fully loaded with all the
software and hardware they need to remedy most problems – and to set
up networks and wireless connections. All Geeks’ employees have at
least an A+ certification from CompTIAA. New Jersey Institute of
Technology, which offers a class that prepares individuals for the
certification, describes it as "a widely-regarded, vendor neutral
certification that serves as an entry-level credential to a career in
computer technology." In addition, the technicians have to pass a
Geeks on Call test.
Geeks on Call does everything from setting up new computers to purging
machines of spyware to networking multiple machines. It serves both
residential and small business customers. Petriello points out,
however, that the line often blurs.
"There are people operating their own businesses out of their houses,"
he says. "Sometimes we get to a house and find eight or ten servers in
the basement." Then there are the people who are employed by another
company, but who do their work at home. For these customers, he says,
the need to get a computer fixed fast is vital. "It’s not just that
the kids can’t play games," he says. "It’s that they can’t connect to
the office. Can’t send E-mail. Can’t work."
Geeks strives to answer all calls within 24 hours and often is able to
provide same day service. A residential call to network the family’s
computers and establish wireless connections could cost about $145,
says Petriello, but he cautions that every situation is different. It
appears that there is substantial potential for "up selling." He
mentions that if a technician finds that a computer is full of spyware
or adware, he will offer to purge it. If the computer is badly out of
date, he will offer to upgrade it.
Standalone computer repair shops and big box electronics stores are
set up to perform repairs, but often they don’t offer house calls.
Computer manufacturers, in general, have cut back on warranty terms.
While consumers are driven mad by 72-minute hold times to speak to a
second-tier tech, small businesses have their own issues. Most of its
business customers are too small to have on-site IT support. Petriello
is hesitant to quote rates for service contracts, because situations
vary so widely.
Meanwhile, whether it’s a one-person household or a 10-person PR firm,
everyone is now lusting for wireless. Petriello provides information
on some of the basics:
Go for a g. There have been several generations of wireless cards
already. The state-of-the-art card now is an 802.11g. With that card,
Petriello promises, universal access to wireless is as close to a
given as is possible in the fickle world of computing. Next down on
the chain is the 802.11b. That card will often pull in the wireless
signals, too, and in fact is the preferred way to access the Internet
wirelessly at a number of hot spots, but is not as fast as the g. The
b operates at 11 megabits per second, while the speedier g operates at
54 megabits a second, says Petriello. There is also an 802.11a. Don’t
buy this one. It can be had at terrifically low prices, but will not
pull in a signal in public wireless (WiFi) hot spots.
Petriello shudders when asked just how long he thinks that 802.11g
will continue to reign as the WiFi standard. "Well," he says, "there
is talk of an ‘N’ and there is a ‘pre-N’ out there." Vendors will get
together on the next standard, and inevitably there will be one. But
for the foreseeable future, in his opinion, the 802.11g will hold
Many new laptops come with wireless cards built in, but most laptops
can be easily upgraded to receive wireless signals. A wireless card,
which plugs into the side of most laptops, costs less than $50.
Choose XP. With Windows XP, going wireless at home or on the road is a
snap. Just turn on the laptop, and it will detect the signal. Surfing
follows painlessly. Windows 2000 machines may have a harder time
connecting at Barnes & Noble or the airport. It may be necessary to
download some patches and fiddle with some settings, but these
computers generally can make the leap to wireless. As for Windows 95
computers, "forget about it," says Petriello. There will be no easy
entry into wireless for these antiques.
Apple owners need not fear being left out. Going wireless at home or
on the road with a Mac is not a problem.
Open your wallet. Going wireless at home involves the purchase of some
hardware. But there is good news on this front. While it used to be
necessary to buy a variety of devices to network computers with each
other and with peripherals and more devices to take the system
wireless, Petriello says that all of these functions can now be had in
a single device, cutting down on cables, wires – and expenses.
An ad for the Linksys 802.11g Cable/DSL Wireless Router with 4-Port
Switch ($74.99), for example, states that it is "really three devices
in one box. It’s a Wireless Access Point and a built-in 4-port
full-duplex 10/100 Switch to connect your wires Ethernet devices.
Connect four PCs directly, or daisy-chain out to more hubs and
switches to create as big a network as you need. Finally, the Router
function ties it all together and lets your whole network share a
high-speed cable of DSL Internet connection."
Find wireless on the road. Each WiFi hot spot provides access to the
‘Net on its own terms. Some hot spots are free. They include the
Princeton Public Library, all branches of the Mercer County Library
system except Hollowbrook, the Princeton University Store, and all
Also on the free list is Princeton University. The university has
Temporary Visitor Wireless Network Access it calls "tuna." Visitors to
the campus are welcome to use it for up to seven days a month from a
number of locations (there is a map at www.net.princeton.edu/TVWNA). A
popular PU hot spot is the Frist campus center. The password, which
changes at least three times a year and is available on the website,
is currently 1122334455.
Others area hot spots are linked up with telecom providers, which
charge a fee. "My Starbucks uses T-Mobile," says Petriello, "but I’m
not sure that all Starbucks do." When he logs on, his account is
charged. He chooses T-Mobile because it is the provider that services
the hot spots he frequents most. In addition to Starbucks, T-Mobile
powers wireless connections at area Borders book stores. T-Mobile’s
rates for Internet on the go are $6 an hour, $9.99 a day, or $29.99 a
He knows of a number of Manhattan hot spots that use Verizon instead.
These Internet outposts are free for those who subscribe to Verizon
DSL at home.
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble has linked up with SBC Communications, which
charges $3.95 for a two-hour session or $19.95 a month, based on a
one-year contract, for unlimited access at any of its 5,000 locations.
That sounds like a lot of places, but in addition to the Barnes &
Noble stores, the only other nearby SBC hot spot is at the Doral
Forrestal hotel. Many of the 5,000 locations are McDonalds’
restaurants. For those who subscribe to SBC Yahoo DSL at home, though,
the price can be right – just $1.99 a year.
The Bucks County Coffee Company’s Palmer Square location is going to
add wireless "very soon," according to a spokesperson, who is not yet
sure what provider it is going to use.
Be safe. The totally tech deficient might want to call on Geeks on
Call or a similar outfit to set up wireless at home if they cannot
lure a grandchild or neighborhood teenager in with promises of cash
and cookies. The moderately tech astute should be able to perform the
task themselves, says Petriello. But he does have a caveat.
On any number of calls his technicians find wireless set-ups that
leave homeowners totally vulnerable. "We open their systems and we can
see into the house across the street, the house on the right, and the
house on the left," he says. Any of these neighbors – as well as
anyone parking a car within 150 feet of the house – can tap into the
home’s Internet service.
Generally when this happens the neighbor just helps himself to a free
ride on the Internet. Many people think "who cares," says Petriello,
but he points out that any surfing these interlopers do shows up as
being on the account of the household that is paying for the service.
A worse case scenario could involve child porn or terroristic threats
or mass spamming attacks. Beyond these nightmares, it is possible that
a hacker could read E-mail or uncover personal information and credit
card numbers – easily.
Protection is not all that difficult, and involves carefully
configuring security settings. Make sure to take the time to do this,
Petriello strongly advises.
Wireless, with its competing standards and dueling service providers,
is still in its infancy. Petriello talks about entire cities –
Philadelphia, for one – gearing up to become totally wireless.
It’s the future, and it’s here today, as close as Starbucks, Barnes &
Noble, the Princeton Public Library, Panera – or that nice sunny spot
in the back garden.
While the Mercer chamber’s workshop will explain, to the non-computer
savvy, the current possibilities for wireless computing, the Princeton
chapter of ACM/IEEE will look into the future of wireless.
NJIT’s Christian Borcea will talk on Outdoor Distributed Computing,
describing prototypes of wireless communication over PDAs and Smart
Phones that have been tested in real-life traffic scenarios with
short-range wireless communication. Set for Thursday, March 17, at
7:30 p.m. at Sarnoff, the meeting is free and refreshments will be
served. Call 908-582-7086.
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