WiFi=SciFi

Wireless high-speed Internet connections offer the same science fiction Internet services that 3G promises to provide. What’s the difference? Wi-Fi is available today- and you’ll have to wait 2-3 more years for 3G services to be developed.

(Approximate reading time: 3.5 minutes)

Media House, a recent exhibition in collaboration between MIT Media Laboratory and Met˜polis, at the Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona demonstrated next generation housing architecture that incorporated a network as the actual internet infrastructure, as well as high bandwidth household uses- videoconferences with the family doctor- as well as the advantages of having everything in your house have its own IP.

They seem to have completely forgotten one of the most promising new technologies coming down the pipe: high-speed wireless networking. Wi-Fi is a wonderful invention. AppleÕs Airport Card and Airport station let you roam around the house while remaining connected to the Internet. Equally, if not more impressive, is the ability to connect your Palm (Handspring, really) to the Internet using Xircom’s expansion card for high speed wireless connections to the Net.

At Home

First, if you don’t have a broadband connection yet- get one. You will never understand how you ever lived without it. An always-on high speed (256K/128K from MENTA) for a reasonable price ($40/ month) changes the way you look at the Net.I have my email client set to check for email every 10 minutes. If IÕm away from the computer and I get a new email, it chimes, so I know I have an email. Also, I use MicrosoftÕs Instant Messenger. I am always logged on- anytime a friend wants to chat for a few minutes, my computer makes a different sound and I know someone is waiting to talk.

And radio? I’ve recently fallen in love all over again with MP3.com. They offer high-bandwidth Top of the Charts selections in a slew of categories. It beats the radio by a mile. The quality? It’s MP3 quality, that is, the human ear cannot detect the difference between an MP3 and a CD. I get the music I want, recommended listening and a CD quality sound.

Having a blistering connection and being able to roam around the house with my notebook or check email on a PDA is a nice treat, but where Wi-Fi truly becomes Si-Fi is in the city–

Out on the Town

Several public places in the US offer high-speed wireless Internet connections, like Starbucks for instance. Equally important, companies are springing up to offer Wi-Fi connections in city centers as well as Airports. These companies include Wayport, MobileStar, Airwave and the Surf and Sip Network.

This makes the Internet even more accessible to people on the move. If you are a subscriber to one of these services listed above, or pay on a per use basis (Surf and Sip is free, though), are in an area where there is coverage (in the downtown area of a few cities) and have an Apple Airport card or another IEEE 802.11b card installed in your notebook, you simply open up your notebook and log in to the service provider’s site and you’re online at top speeds in a snap.

You are in even better shape if you have an 802.11b card in your Handspring. There’s no need to lug around your notebook to check your emails. Imagine a corporate LAN connection on your handheld. Ok, maybe you’re not going to surf the Net on your PDA, but checking emails and reading the news at CNET while you have your morning coffee sure is luxurious. (Think about it: a Handpring Visor Prism- 65,000 colors; and a wireless connection at LAN speeds- all in the palm of your hand- very impressive.)

That’s the ease-of-use that 3G (Third Generation/UMTS Networks) has been promising for a couple of years now- and we won’t be seeing any 3G phones for a few more years still. Si-Fi in your hand today. All you need is a Handspring, a Xircom 802.11b card and a service provider like those listed above.

Coming Soon to a Country Near You

Wi-Fi services aren’t available everywhere just yet (but you have to remember that 3G isn’t available ANYWHERE). However, if you’re lucky enough to travel to a few cities in Scandinavia, London or San Francisco you can cut your teeth on some real-life science fiction.

Until next time, Happy Wi-Fi Living!

Jason Ball

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