The Internet on the Road

Since I’m traveling in our motor home all year, I am often asked what its like doing deals while always on the road. Communications and information are the keys. Of course the cell phone, national plan (no long distance or roaming charges) and a notebook computer are a must. The computer is my free fax machine ( But the real key is the Internet. Until recently, connecting to the internet meant going to Kinko’s, public libraries, or places where one could dial-up to get internet access for emails and attachments, key communication tools.

That has changed, and it just got a whole lot better. Islands of wireless broadband connectivity, called “hotspots”, are sprouting up in airport lounges, conference centers, hotels, colleges, whole communities, and other public areas around the world, delivering Internet access at speeds over 10 times that of dialup, and it’s often free. It’s called wireless fidelity (WiFi). Imagine just sitting down with your notebook or PDA and connecting to the Internet with no phone cord… just turn it on! Windows XP provides WiFi capability automatically when you install a wireless card in the pcmcia slot – (Best Buy about $54)

Here are some recent developments:

Starbucks launched a nationwide campaign to put wireless access with T1 speeds in some 1,200 of its U.S. and European stores increasing to 2,000 stores by the end of the year. The project is part of a three-way deal between Starbucks, T-Mobile, and Hewlett-Packard using WiFi. The network is accessible for Starbucks customers with a wireless-ready notebook computer or Pocket PC. To connect, customers need a T-Mobile Hotspot account ( and Wi-Fi capability for their wireless device.

On January 10th, the City of Long Beach announced that the entire downtown area would offer wireless Internet access to attract people to that area. Other towns around the country are expected to do the same.

Boingo Wi-Fi service ( is available in over 900 Hot Spot locations covering 300 cities and 43 states and expects to have 5,000 hotspots by the end of this year. Boingo Wi-Fi network includes full or partial coverage in numerous US airports, service in the lobbies of hundreds of major hotels, such as the Four Seasons, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham, Embassy Suites and coverage at hundreds of cafes, coffee shops, and free networks.

Cometa Networks, formed through investment and input from Intel, IBM, AT&T, and a pair of venture capital firms, will roll out approximately 20,000 access points by 2004. The idea is to make wireless access almost anywhere, requiring at most a five-minute walk in an urban environment and a five-minute drive in a suburban setting.

Amateur radio operators (hams) are building the Hinternet, or a ham-oriented licensed band network which opens up the potential for Wi-Fi fans to become hams as well in a boon for free community networks.

Lufthansa is testing in-flight data service of Wi-Fi and Ethernet access to the Internet while in flight. If successful other airlines will follow if regulators allow it.

The University of Akron in Ohio is one of the first public universities in the United States to establish a campus-wide, entirely wireless network. Through a partnership with networking equipment manufacturer Cisco, the university launched a pilot implementation at a branch campus located in a rural Ohio county in 2000. Next came the law school and, in 2001, the entire main campus.

As you can see, there is a great deal of posturing, not to mention the thousands of private networks where folks just like to provide free access.

Netstumbler ( is a free software program that finds hotspots; beep to let you know you’re receiving, and monitors your connection. You can download, install, and be in operation in minutes. WiFi users must be within 300 feet or so of a base station or “hot spot.”

So you can see that while WiFi is widely available now, by next year we may be saturated – if new technology doesn’t replace it.

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