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WiFi Update – No. 9

Cell phoneWhere is WiFi headed? I don’t claim to have a crystal ball but one thing is for sure and that is that WiFi is making the Internet “always on” and extending it to more people and more devices at more locations. A number of us have predicted that WiFi would become like air and water in our communities. This week, the associated press, reported that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is considering plans to spend about $10 million to turn turn all 135 square miles of the "City of Brotherly Love" into the world’s largest wireless Internet hot spot. The story, by David Caruso, describes an ambitious plan which would result in placing hundreds or maybe thousands of wireless access points on the tops of lampposts.

The CIO for Philadelphia, Dianah Neff, says "It’s a technology whose time is here." Other cities have announced similar plans but none as comprehensive as Philadelphia. Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University, which is spearheading a WiFi project in Cleveland said, "We like to say it should be like the air you breathe – free and available everywhere. We look at this like PBS or NPR. It should be a public resource."

I believe pervasive WiFi will be be both an economic advantage and a social advantage for cities of all sizes. Imagine a city where everyone — residents, businesses, tourists, and visitors — has access. There may be some charge for the service, to be determined, but it surely will not be the $50 per month that many people pay (or have resisted paying) for their cable or dsl broadband service. Subsidization for those who can’t afford any payment is surely an option. Inexpensive WiFi phones may become available for many people — enabling them to have very low cost voice over IP "long distance" — when today they may have no phone service at all. Neighborhood Internet kiosks will be able to serve those who choose to have no device of their own.

Speaking of devices, WiFi is beginning to become available in more devices — eventually in all of them. PalmOne will be shipping a WiFi card that will fit in the Palm Tungsten T3 and HP’s new iPAQ hx4705 has an integrated WiFi capability. The price and the power usage will both be coming down and the number of choices of handheld WiFi devices will be going up. The handwriting is on the wall. WiFi is going to be everywhere.