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Investor's Business Daily
Printer-Ready Version
Article Title: "More Web Users Look To WISP "
Section: Internet & Technology 

Date: 6/24/2002 
If you're on the road and want to use the Internet, you can turn to a Web-enabled personal digital assistant, digital cell phone or pager.

But such devices have their limitations. They handle standard e-mail fine, but most aren't able to handle file attachments such as a PowerPoint presentation. And forget about displaying standard Web pages with graphics.

That's why a small but growing number of on-the-go Web users are wirelessly accessing the Internet with their laptops. The key is a network interface card and access to a free or inexpensive wireless Internet service provider, or WISP.

"Because people are used to surfing the Internet on their PCs and not on wireless devices, this (technology) is going to take off and be successful," said Jeff Giesea, publisher of Fierce Wireless, a newsletter that covers wireless phone and Internet services.

If you've purchased a laptop in the last three or four years, it's likely equipped to access wireless services. Some newer laptops already come enabled for these services, and, if so, say so in the accompanying manual or on the laptop itself.

If your laptop is not already enabled for wireless services, check if it at least has a PCMCIA-type card slot. PCMCIA is short for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association.

If it does, you can buy a 802.11b radio card for $100 to $200. That will give you wireless capability. The term 802.11b refers to a wireless networking technical standard more commonly known as Wi-Fi.

Once your laptop is up and ready, you will be able to access whatever WISP services exist in your area. When you travel, you can access "hot spot" wireless networks in airports and coffee shops.

WISPs use fixed antennas to offer Internet access at speeds much faster than Web phones or PDAs - and sometimes even faster than non-wireless links, such as line cable modems or digital subscriber lines.

"With a fixed antenna, a user can receive a huge increase of bandwidth available," said Robert Hoskins, editor of Broadband Wireless Exchange magazine. "An average broadband wireless connection is in the 1- to 3-megabit range, but can be as high as 10 megabit. That's fast."

The technology used by most WISPs was originally designed for corporate wireless local area networks, or WLANs, says Hoskins.

But at first these wireless networks, which worked with low-powered radios, had a range of only several hundred feet. So WISPs had to boost the signals.

"Some smart and creative ISPs decided to take the WLAN gear, add more power and run a cable to an antenna outside that could beam data five or 10 miles away," Hoskins said. "Suddenly they had a way to deliver a T1 (1.5 megabits per second) connection. WISPs could deliver more bandwidth for less money."

Some WISPs charge just $50 to $100 a month. Hot spot service providers such as Boingo Wireless Inc. charge $7.95 per connection or $74.95 per month for unlimited use.

To build their networks, WISPs identify a market, often a small town, and build antennas until they have what traditional cell phone providers call "360 degrees of coverage." If you're using your wireless-enabled laptop within that zone, you'll be able to access the Internet.

When you travel outside your local WISP coverage area, you may have problems. Wireless Internet experts liken this to the early days of cell phones, before "roaming agreements" among different cellular service providers became common.

Wireless broadband "is coming sooner than most people realize," Hoskins said."As more and more service providers begin providing wireless, you'll see the same chain of events occur that the cell phone industry saw. Soon we will have enough towers to provide ubiquitous coverage, and service providers will begin working out reciprocal roaming agreements."

For a glimpse of the future of WISPs, check out rural Minnesota and Iowa, says Hoskins. A company called Xtratyme Technologies Inc. has built a system with more than 70 towers. It allows users to pull over and access the Internet in a wide range of locations.

"They are about five years ahead of the competition, but others are catching up fast," said Hoskins.

WISPs' technology largely depends on getting unobstructed signals from their antennas to your laptop. That's why much of the growth in WISP access has been in rural areas, without tall buildings.

For now, most major-market broadband wireless services use hot-spot technology. They've installed hot-spot wireless access points at various locations, such as airport kiosks and Starbucks cafes.

The airport hot spots make it easier for travelers to check e-mail, Hoskins says. "Executives simply open their laptops, upload all the work they did on the airplane and download all their new messages sent to their mail boxes while they were in the air."

In the future, Hoskins says, these hot spots will be expanded to cover low-tech places, such as convenience stores. 


© Investor's Business Daily, Inc. 2002. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction or redistribution is prohibited without prior authorized permission from Investor's Business Daily. For information on reprints, webprints or permissions, go to



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