Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wi-Fi About to Be More "Wi" Than Ever

I received a breathless message yesterday from the state broadcasters' association, clearly apoplectic about an action of the Federal Communications Commission earlier this week. That action opened up a huge swath of radio-frequency spectrum to the next generation of Wi-Fi...the no-wire method many use to reach the Internet from their computers. The broadcasters are concerned that the new technology, operating virtually without license, will cause interference to their signals. I maintain that should be the least of their worries.

Wireless Internet has been around for a long time. Who among us has not stood on a hotel balcony, holding the laptop at an odd angle, to try to glom off somebody's wireless network instead of paying the hotel ten or twelve bucks to hook up to their wired connection? Or consumed too many cups of $3.95 coffee so you could linger at Starbucks long enough to download your email?

Stand by for the day--now closer because of the FCC action this week--when you can reach the web from just about anywhere, using your laptop, your Blackberry, some kind of device not even invented yet, or a computer modem that resides in the dash of your car, right next to the radio and just below the GPS. The FCC move was simply the next shoe dropping. As Larry Page, co-founder of Google, wrote, "These spectrum signals have much longer range than today's Wi-Fi technology and broadband access can be spread using fewer base stations resulting in better coverage at lower cost."

The way we get and use information, entertainment, communication and more is about to change so dramatically that it will leave many dazed, wondering what happened to telephones with wires, newspapers, Yellow Pages, over-the-air TV and radio stations, movie theaters, and more. When you can ride down the freeway, listening to a streaming "radio station" from the other side of the country, getting driving directions and maps from Google on a high-res screen embedded in your steering wheel to help you locate a certain restaurant you searched for, the kids watching a first-run, streaming movie that you rented from Netflix on the HD monitor in the back seat (that they can pause when you get to the restaurant and finish watching when you return home), and your spouse is talking with a friend in Sweden and exchanging vacation photos on the VOIP phone, then we will have gotten much closer to realizing the full capabilities of "the web."

But nowhere near the full capability. Ready or not, here it comes!

Don Keith N4KC

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