From Amazing to Plumbing: A year of WiFi



I didn't have any input into choosing Mobitopia's WiFi Day, but as luck would have it, today is the anniversary of the day I first bought a WiFi card and became part of the new 802.11 wireless revolution. An amazing coincidence!

I can say that at the beginning I was pretty amazed. Full-on internet access from anywhere in my house or office or many times on the road quickly and easily without cables. I remember my first true wireless experience was connecting to the access point at SeaTac airport in Seattle on the way home to Madrid. Ana was online using Yahoo Messenger and a webcam, and I was able to hear/see her and Alex while sitting waiting for a plane. Very cool.

I had bought two PCMCIA cards at the beginning so I wouldn't have to invest in a wireless router - I figured I would connect my PCs at home via peer networking. Living in Spain, I was more than a bit behind the WiFi pace that was being set in the U.S., so I made sure that I bought the cards on a trip to the U.S. before I went back because they weren't easily available in Madrid last December (that was to change within a month or two). The two cards worked pretty well, but I lived in a such a small apartment there wasn't really a major need for me to set it up like that, so I didn't use them much.

However, a couple months later, a group of coworkers and I had to share a small office in Sun's iForce facility in Madrid and there weren't nearly enough ethernet access ports to go around. Normally we would've bought a some sort of ethernet hub and a bunch of cables, but instead we expensed a new WiFi router and got WiFi cards for everyone. Despite some hiccups, it generally worked really well. I'm still using my NetGear WiFi card from a year ago because out of the many cards we bought, it just happened to have the best quality and range. It works so well, actually, that I've never bothered to go get the add-on integrated card that my Toshiba Satellite supports, though I probably will soon as I'm starting to use WiFi more and more.

I learned a lot from that experience, actually. Getting all the drivers to work on various laptops was a challenge as the drivers all had varying degrees of quality. One Windows XP driver for a D-Link card required you to type in all 64 bits of hex code into the computer in order to enable a secure connection to the router. Doh! Others were a bit easier to install, but the idea was that a year ago it seemed all new and cutting edge (it wasn't really, but it felt like it) so we just went with it. We brought the WiFi card to the main offices and connected that way and generally used it as a back up for whenever a bunch of visiting workers arrived at once. There's always room at the WiFi table.

Cut forward to September this year when I returned to the U.S. - which is considerbly farther ahead in WiFi than most of the world - and I was amazed at how ubiquitous WiFi has become. From something that I used as a backup, it's now a part of daily life. You can see why people like Clay Sharky got all in a lather about personal wireless networks taking down the telecoms when you're in a city like San Francisco, where on just about any corner you can find a hot spot. It's hard to explain how many Starbucks there are here, but there are a ton and pretty much wherever there's a Starbucks, there's a WiFi access point.

And not only is it businesses and public access points. It's become an essential part of home networking as well. While looking for apartments in October, I kept my laptop by my side in the car as I roamed around looking at places. I never bothered to print out a list of apartments because I could easily pull over to a corner and have several open Access Points available to me to use to look up maps on Yahoo or do more searches on a new section of the city that I found interesting. Quick and easy, it was so reliable that I finally had to buy an adapter for my laptop so I didn't run out of electricity because I could spend all day like that all over the Bay Area.

And that leads me to the final part of my journey, my new home ADSL install. I called SBC Internet to get everything set up and they had the offer of a new wireless "home portal" from a company called 2Wire and I jumped on it. When it arrived, I was a bit taken aback. It looked just like a normal DSL modem! Where are the little antennas? It didn't seem wireless at all! But nope, it's all self-contained and as soon as I plugged it in, I was connected wirelessly. As an integrated router, it has its own web-based administration screen with a firewall and parental controls, *and* it has 64-bit security built in and turned on out of the box. I flipped the box over, copied the code into the Access Point dialog box and I was good to go in seconds. Rock on.

And that's where I am now, a year later. This morning on #mobitopia we were talking about our WiFi day and I said, "I can't think of anything to write about WiFi." Then I started thinking and realized that it's been a "just" a year using the technology and it's gone from being Cool, New and Amazing, to just Plumbing I use without thinking about it. I'm actually writing this in the living room connected to the router in the bedroom via WiFi. I hadn't noticed until I started writing this piece.

That in itself is probably the most amazing part of WiFi now.


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