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Unwire the Web

The Government's legalising of `WiFi', coupled with Intel's new Centrino technology for Net-enabled notebooks promises a new era of untethered Internet access for net users.


A FEW days after the recent global launch by Intel, of `Centrino', its new technology to untether the mobile computer and allow users to directly access the Internet without having to attach a telephone cable, customers were shown trying out the facility at a U.S.-based outlet of McDonalds. The fast food chain had installed the necessary wireless antennas so that one could surf the Net as one bit into a Big Mac.

The Wifi or Wireless Fidelity (as in hifi) equipment can be seen in the accompanying picture on top of the yellow duct at roof level. An antenna like that costs less than $ 100 in the U.S and many Indians are bringing them home from abroad. It allows them to turn their homes into Wireless `hotspots'; that is you can move your PCs or notebooks, as you please, any where in the house, upstairs or downstairs, within a radius of about 30 meters and can get on the Internet without having to trail a lot of wires. Of course, you need a basic Internet account from a provider.

In the coming months, Net freaks who like to check their e-mail while they are `on the hoof' will find that an increasing number of public places like coffee shops or department stores where one can find such wireless hotspots. Almost all the main manufacturers of notebook computers, who sell in India, have launched new wireless-enabled models with Centrino `under the hood'.

Many high-end models of mobile phones are WAP-enabled, that is they use the Wireless Application Protocol to provide Web Access. This did not prove very popular in India and by and large the cellular providers in this country did not WAP-enable their networks. This may no longer matter because the new WiFi band of the communication spectrum that the Indian Government has delicensed, will fill the breach.

How? By allowing mobile phone makers to put in an extra chip that will allow phone users to latch on to the nearest WiFi hotspot just as the Centrino notebooks are now doing. Motorola is said to have teamed with a US-based company harnessing Internet telephone applications and may soon come up with a model that is a neat `sangam' of voice and Internet.

All this is wonderful but affordable only by a small minority of the well-heeled or the well-connected (by the latter, we mean those can pass on all such sundry expense to their employers). Right now, the big players in India who are breathlessly touting these new wireless wonders, as well as those in the hotel and hospitality industry who are taking the first baby steps in this direction seem to be milking the technology for all it's worth.

That's altogether the wrong move. Put some of your money where your mouth is — and stop rolling out all those clichés about unwiring the Net or untethering the PC unless you are prepared to do something concrete: Set up free hot spots in one two public spots in every metro; let the customer get a feel for the new freedom that wireless Net connections provide.

A.VISHNU

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