The global engineer

Being away on an assignment is no longer an excuse for not staying in regular touch with your loved ones.

It's a story every executive will be all too familiar with. High-flying managers surrender their posts in order to spend more time with the family. But now, it seems, they're putting their relationship at greater risk by staying at home. If you want to save your marriage, leave it behind and go on a business trip.

Research by hotel group Crowne Plaza has proved that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, especially if it's work that calls you away. Their survey of over 700 business travellers showed three-quarters said 'I love you' more often from a distance, while staying in a hotel, rather than at home.

My suspicion is this fresh rush of feeling when far away isn't due to love and loneliness. It's all down to the technology a business person can now take on the trip. Forty per cent of the survey's respondents confessed to sending romantic text messages to a partner during a business meeting. Only 50 years ago, they would have had to have left the conference room and found somewhere to send a telegram, requiring far more than merely tapping a few fingers under the table.

It's so easy to fall in love these days - or at least send a message saying you are. The new iPhone 3G was launched in July, promising faster, more reliable Internet access. I've been debating whether to invest in an iPhone or BlackBerry for months, believing it would only make me constantly caught up in work.

So I'm delighted to discover it would lead to more, not less, domestic bliss to be constantly in touch. But it's not so comforting to discover that love has an unreasonably high price. EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding has called upon Europe's mobile phone companies to more than halve the cost of sending texts from abroad, believing them to be far too high. The commission has calculated that the average consumer is charged about €0.30 to send a text from abroad and Reding wants that slashed to €0.12. She also wants reduction in the cost of using the Internet abroad through a mobile phone, known as data roaming - particularly pertinent since the introduction of the iPhone.

Cost is now the only - rather flimsy - excuse to the traveller not to keep in contact with their loved ones. There's hardly a remaining corner of our well-travelled world where you can't keep in touch. And if you thought taking to the mountains might earn you some well-earned solitude, even the steepest slopes are now well connected.

It's good to talk

The Voicebox Sport makes walkie-talkie or radio contact possible in the most unusual conditions, including while skiing. Using a headset and a throat mike placed around your neck, it picks up vibrations from you vocal chords and converts them into speech. You can use these kits in vox mode, so they're handsfree, or press a PTT (push to talk) button attached to your ski pole. All terrain is covered. The Voicebox Sport can also be used while paragliding or mountain biking. The Voicebox Extreme, with increased ambient noise protection and high quality sound reproduction through its acoustic tube system, is designed for even more demanding situations. It's used by rescue services, in case you get in trouble talking too much while engaged in your rugged outdoor activities.

Even in-car connectivity is speeding ahead. Soon British drivers will be able to surf the Web and download their favourite videos and music while inside a Chrysler Aspen. The American manufacturer is introducing Wi-Fi technology in all its British vehicles from the end of next year. The system - developed by Autonet Mobile - uses a small device in the boot to connect to the Internet via high-speed mobile phone networks, producing a wireless signal with a 100ft radius. BMW are developing a similar system.

But is such pervasive Internet connection safe? Unlike trains, boats and planes, cars are usually driven by the customer, hopefully using two hands. Robert Gifford, executive director of the UK parliamentary committee on transport safety, says: "Car manufacturers are creating a vehicle that seems like an extension of your lounge - but that doesn't normally travel at 70mph." The 100ft radius means you could park and picnic, while you download your emails. Or, your PA can take a back seat and continue to research the markets or send messages on your behalf while you drive. Sterling Pratz, chief executive of Autonet Mobile, said: "This is marketed at the passenger. We don't promote surfing and driving at all."

Since last month's column about car hire, provision has also gone into full gear. Car rental company Holiday Autos has launched a worldwide interactive road-mapping service on its website. Before even picking up your vehicle, you can familiarise yourself with any tricky turns and bends in 3D. A 'flight mode' allows you to virtually drive your route online first, even pointing out convenient petrol stations.

Soon, before departing on your next business trip, you and your loved one will be able to snuggle up together and share a virtual drive along the route you'll be taking. Then, when you get there, you can email fond messages from your hire car's Wi-Fi system or text passionate verse from your iPhone 3G.

The familiar story of having to give up work to spend more time with your family will have a very different ending. Today's tale is of how being apart only brings you together - thanks to technology.

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