Magazine article Management Today

E-Mail from the Valley

Magazine article Management Today

E-Mail from the Valley

Article excerpt

I have always been a huge sceptic of the wireless internet. When Sprint PCS brought out its internet phones in the US last year, I was first in line, bought the handset, tried to navigate the data service to find a restaurant address, gave up in frustration, dialled directory inquiries and vowed never again to be taken in by the hype.

At Moreover, we always resisted wireless internet hype. But even we talked about possible extensions of our platform into wireless and other media, after an entrepreneur I respect said it would add 20% to the valuation. That moment of weakness made me despise the mobile internet even more.

Until now. I have become obsessed by a new technology with a geeky acronym. It's spreading through Silicon Valley like wildfire; the technology promises to bring the high-speed internet the 'last mile' to the home; it renders questionable the $100 billion that telecoms companies have invested in third-generation mobile frequencies; and it shows even sceptics like me the potential of high-speed internet access without wires.

The technology is called 802.11b or Wi-fi, a standard for wireless communication within offices or homes. It operates at the speed of the ethernet networks on which most modern offices run -- about 200 times the rate of a dial-up connection to the internet. And 802.11b networks let companies provide high-speed network access to employees without messy cabling.

But the technology has broader implications. First, 802.11b is suddenly the standard for wireless network access. Venture capitalists are investing in the 802.11b space. PC makers such as Toshiba and Dell are building 802.11b aerials into their high-end laptops.

Second, a new range of devices from companies such as D-Link attach a high-speed internet connection directly to an 802.11b transmitter. Think of it as an individual setting up their own high-speed internet cell, for the cost of a $300 mail-order device and a $30 per month DSL connection.

Third, users no longer need to change machine settings when switching networks. Most new networks can now assign an identity to a laptop as it's connected to the network, rather than requiring an address to be programmed in.

All these developments mean that a new laptop can be connected to the internet simply by moving within range of an 802.11b transmitter, without changing a computer's settings.

Already, San Francisco's technological hippies are using this new power to cast the internet across parts of the city, on the grounds that free access is now every American citizen's inalienable right. …

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