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NY Times on 802 wireless

Hot off the email-only press from the New York Times. The important 
point it makes is finally starting to get widespread notice.


Circuits from
Thursday, February 15, 2001

1. From the Desk of David Pogue: The Promise of Wireless

I was in Arizona this week, attending my first Demo
conference: an annual event in which 800 high-tech
executives, reporters, venture capitalists and analysts
gather to watch 32 hand-picked companies demonstrate their
products in progress. (The full story is here:

Although not a word was said about it at the show, I
witnessed a high-tech event unfolding before my very eyes:
the birth of wireless networks in public places.

The public spaces at this technology show, for example, were
equipped with base stations that transmit and receive data
wirelessly, using a technology standard that Apple calls
AirPort, and the Windows world calls 802.11. If your laptop
has an AirPort or 802.11 card installed, you have an
instantaneous, high-speed, wireless Internet connection
without having to plug anything in. (You have to adjust only
one software setting.)

A surprisingly large percentage of the audience took
advantage of these hidden base stations. A show of hands
indicated that perhaps a quarter of the audience was quietly
surfing Web sites and sending e-mail during the onstage
presentations, etiquette be damned.

Conference organizers loaned wireless PC cards to some
attendees, many of whom are high-income, high-tech workers.
But wireless access in public places is by no means confined
to geek gatherings.

An increasing number of airport lounges, upscale coffee
shops and hotels are installing wireless networks for the
convenience of their digitally literate patrons. If you
belong to the laptop generation, you can look forward to a
world of free, instant wireless access wherever you go. On
second thought, the access might be sponsored, intermittent
and limited to major cities, but you get the basic point.

At $100 each, AirPort/802.11 cards for laptops aren't cheap.
Fortunately there's another, less expensive, competing
wireless technology that may soon also sprout in public
places. It's called Bluetooth, a long-delayed, short-range
radio system intended to replace the rat's nest of cables
that now connect our computers, printers and other desktop

I was surprised to hear from representatives of Palm
Computing, maker of Palm handhelds, that the same kinds of
public, commercial spaces (hotels, airport lounges, your
local Starbucks) may soon be installing Bluetooth
transmitters. The idea here is especially enticing. When
you're in range of such a transmitter, you can check your
e-mail or a Web site not only with your laptop, but with
your handheld as well.

Computer magazines and industry pundits have been predicting
this kind of nerd nirvana for years now; what surprises me
is how close we are. By early summer, you should be able to
add a special hard case to your Palm V that is actually a
Bluetooth transmitter. By 2002, every Palm handheld will
come with built-in Bluetooth circuitry.

The movement by airports and hotels to install wireless
Internet gateways is worth cheering. Nobody will mourn the
loss of cables, especially when it comes to palmtops and
laptops. The sooner the wireless Internet becomes available
at high speed and low hassle, the sooner we dip into its
real potential.

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