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I was driving in New York on Interstate 84 recently while using my cell phone. My headset (required by law in Westchester County) was uncomfortable and reception was marginal. It was an important discussion so I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway for the balance of the conversation. Suddenly, a State Trooper pulled up behind me with his red lights flashing. I immediately lowered my window to talk with him. Before I could say a word he asked if I was having an emergency. I said “no, I pulled over to have a phone conversation”. “That is against the law”, he told me. He went on to inform me that the highway shoulder is for emergency purposes only and that I could be ticked for my action, although he only gave me a warning.

I suspect you are as surprised about this as I was. The troopers may be in for a surprise too as it is likely that many more people are going to be pulling on to the shoulders of streets and highways — not to use their cell phones but to check their email via a WiFi connection.

On a recent ride up the New Jersey Garden State Parkway (while someone else was driving) I was able to detect multiple WiFi signals emanating from various corporate headquarters buildings. Most of them did have their encryption turned on so it would have been easy to pull on to the shoulder of the road, connect, and surf away with broadband speed. In Manhattan there are now more than 10,000 wireless access points and a new "sport" is to mark the sidewalks and buildings with chalk to indicate their location and whether or not they have encryption turned on. Hopefully, for their own protection, companies will get their house in order and utilize the best encryption available — and soon the encryption capability will enable wireless LAN’s to be as secure as wired LAN’s. However, there will be an increasing number of WAP’s that have encryption turned off on purpose — not just by default. Some of these will be advertiser supported and some will be community based services. Just like communities provide street lights, parking areas, and fire hydrants; many will also be providing WiFi access for their citizens — and passers by.

Cometa, a new venture formed by IBM, AT&T and Intel plans to install wireless antennas and offer high-speed Internet access within 5 minutes driving time of customers anywhere in the 50 largest U.S. cities. For WiFi it will add momentum to an already exploding new area. More importantly it will add a lot of new hotspots and help put WiFi on the path to ubiquity. Dr. Larry Brilliant, CEO of Cometa says, "More than 100 million Internet users in the U.S. will be able to access their current Internet accounts, office systems and corporate networks via their current [service] provider, and their existing billing arrangements." One step closer to "Always on".

Intel plans to put WiFi chips in everything possible. Their new Banias microprocessor archi8tecture is going to support not only today’s WiFi (802.11b) but also the much faster 802.11a in one package. The new chips will also use less power, generate less heat, and will simplify many of the steps needed to connect wirelessly and to move between various types of WiFi networks. Once these chips find their way into various handheld devices — things we used to call cell phones — people will be pulling over to the side of the road to suf the web, check their email, and have a conversation via the Internet. This will happen sooner than we think.

Other WiFi Developments

  • IBM has introduced a new ThinkPad R Series laptop featuring WiFi connectivity based on both the 802.11a and 802.11b standards. This is important because although 802.11b is more pervasive at this time, 802.11a will likely be predominate by the end of this year. It will have a bandwidth capability of 54 million bits per second — nearly 1,000 times faster than today’s analog modems. The result will be a good capability for multimedia projects such as streaming video or transferring other large files. See story in Information Week.
  • Dave Hughes is a 74-year-old retired Army colonel who totally gets WiFi. Read the story.