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For a number of years I have been talking about the next generation of the Internet — Fast, Always on, and Everywhere. (There is a chapter on each of these characteristics in my book, Net Attitude). Although we have a long way to go, I think we have now reached the tipping point. WiFi is a major contributor to that. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was at the Holiday Inn in Beijing and felt relieved that I could get connected at 1,200 bits per second and in Prague with a pair if pliers and screwdriver re-wiring a wall jack to get connected. We all have many similar stories from throughout the world – including in America. But, times have changed.

Although we have not yet reached the stage where we can be connected anytime anywhere we want, we are getting close. I think of my connectivity in four modes. When at home with the ThinkPad X30 in the docking station, connectivity is via the home LAN which is 100 megabits. (I actually wish it was faster but I have not yet found a gigabit Ethernet card for the ThinkPad). The high speed is not for surfing – it is for backup. Like everybody, I have a lot of music, pictures, and data on my system, much of which is irreplaceable. I backup critical files to the microdrive in the ThinkPad after each usage. A daily backup of high-activity files goes across the LAN to another ThinkPad late at night. Very late at night, everything gets backed up to one of six hard drives — depending on what day it is — on an xSeries eServer. Doing all this at less much than 100 megabits would take a very long time.

When not in my home office the second mode takes over – WiFi. As we all know, WiFi is becoming available at more and more places – sometimes by free community services and sometimes by more industrial strength services such as T-Mobile and soon by Cometa. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of places that don’t have WiFi. It is surprising to me that more hotels and office buildings don’t have it – they will – but they don’t yet. Enter Sprint PCS Vision.

Sprint’s PCS Vision is a data network (1900 MhZ CDMA) that operates in conjunction conjunction with their cellular-phone traffic. They call it "high speed, although my experience is that it is often not as fast as 56kpbs dial-up. However, it is at least three or four times as fast as previous Internet connections possible via cell phone– and the good news is that there are no wires. I actually like the service a lot. If no WiFi signal is available, I insert the Sprint Novatel wireless Internet PCMCIA card into my ThinkPad slot. The “wireless connection manager” software is easy to install and incredibly, and surprisingly, simple to use. You just start the program, wait for it to find a signal, and then click the connect button. After a very short delay, you are connected just as though you were using WiFi or your home LAN. So far, both the card and the Sprint network have worked flawlessly and reliably. It works anywhere that Sprint has coverage and really comes in handy at a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or train station. It is expensive but extremely productive to have.

Where there is no wired LAN, no WiFi, and no Sprint coverage, the fourth mode comes in. Fumbling around in my briefcase to find a telephone cable, sometimes crawling on the floor to find an RJ-11 jack, starting up the dialer, hoping to have the right combination of nines, zeroes, ones, area codes (or not), clicking the connect button and then sighing with relief to get anything better than 20,000 bit per second and not getting dropped before getting my email. Fortunately, mode four isn’t needed much anymore.