Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wi-Fi: Blessing of modern technology

IT STANDS as perhaps the signal success of the computer industry in the last few
years, a rare bright spot in a bubble-battered market: Wi-Fi, the short-range
wireless broadband technology. Among geeks, it has inspired a mania unseen since
the days of the internet boom. Tens of millions of Wi-Fi devices will be sold this year,
including the majority of laptop computers. Analysts predict that 100m people will be
using Wi-Fi by 2006. Homes, offices, colleges and schools around the world have
installed Wi-Fi equipment to blanket their premises with wireless access to the
internet. Wi-Fi access is available in a growing number of coffee-shops, airports and
hotels too. Yet merely five years ago wireless networking was a niche technology.
How did Wi-Fi get started, and become so successful, in the depths of a downturn?
Wi-Fi seems even more remarkable when you look at its provenance: it was, in
effect, spawned by an American government agency from an area of radio spectrum
widely referred to as “the garbage bands”. Technology entrepreneurs generally
prefer governments to stay out of their way: funding basic research, perhaps, and
then buying finished products when they emerge on the market. But in the case of
Wi-Fi, the government seems actively to have guided innovation. “Wi-Fi is a creature
of regulation, created more by lawyers than by engineers,” asserts Mitchell Lazarus,
an expert in telecoms regulation at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, a law firm based in
Arlington, Virginia. As a lawyer, Mr Lazarus might be expected to say that. But he was also educated as an electrical engineer—and besides, the facts seem to bear him

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