High-speed wireless networking has been moving into the public eye, and the last week offered a bouquet of mainstream press coverage of the fast-growing technology. We're talking about the 11-megabits-per-second technology called 802.11b or Wi-Fi. Verizon is bringing it to small and midsized businesses. Comdex provided a real-world test bed for it (and showed some of its limitations). And folks in Boston, New York, and elsewhere are settling into life with Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi enables Internet access to be shared over an area 300 feet in diameter via radio waves in an unlicensed area of the spectrum. The AP quoted a market study claiming that over $2 billion in Wi-Fi gear has been sold in 2002, with more than $3 billion expected for next year.
Last Friday, News.com and the AP covered news of Verizon's plunge into selling Wi-Fi gear to their business customers. The Globe noted that Verizon is trailing cellular provider Nextel into the business. Both accounts mentioned the push by T-Mobile (formerly VoiceStream) to Wi-Fi-ify hundreds of Starbucks, airport lounges, and malls around the country. News.com quoted an analyst who approved of Verizon's focus on businesses, opining, "Nobody has found a viable model for selling broadband inside cafes yet."
Wi-Fi got one of its largest-scale tests at Comdex last week. In this morning's Seattle Times, Paul Andrews reported that a sort of "tipping point" had been reached at Comdex: "Nearly all the journalists, analysts and salespeople ... had wireless PC capability," yet could hardly find a Wi-Fi access point in all of Las Vegas. Comdex itself provided five Wi-Fi hotspots on the show floor for up to 300 people at a time, but this was hopelessly inadequate for the demand, reported 802.11-Planet.com.
Yesterday's New York Times and today's Boston Globe carried thoughtful appreciations of life in cities dense with Wi-Fi hotspots. The Globe's Scott Kirsner reported on the high-tech startups, mostly unfunded, whose founders meet in the city's Starbucks cafes and get their Internet connectivity over the airwaves after paying $30 a month to T-Mobile (and $3 for their nonfat lattes). Writing in Sunday's New York Times, Tom Vanderbilt, an author who writes about urban spaces, waxes poetic on the community scale of Wi-Fi. Vanderbilt quoted one of the founders of NYC Wireless, a free public-access project: "This technology flies in the face of all the 'death of distance' and 'end of geography' rhetoric of the '90s fiber optic boom ... It's a very intimate technology, very local." -- Keith Dawson
Wi-Fi wireless technology goes mainstream with Verizon service (AP)
Verizon takes Wi-Fi to the office
Wireless vision still trips over wired reality (Seattle Times)
Comdex Puts Wi-Fi Weaknesses on Display
Free office space -- but coffee's extra (Boston Globe)
Walker in the Wireless City
Wi-Fi joins broadband access debate