This past weekend in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I became certain that WiFi is moving toward ubiquity in the US. Let me share my experiences and the reasons I see this coming.
My family and I were away from home Friday night and Saturday, attending a "Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine" in Green Bay. We'd reserved a hotel room months prior so we could get to the event early and surprise our son Nathan with a day full hangin' with of his favorite train, Thomas.
In an effort to travel light, I opted to leave the Powerbook at home and instead took along the Dana Wireless, a Palm OS device with a built-in full size keyboard and a WiFi (802.11b) transceiver card. I wasn't sure what kind of WiFi reception I might find, but that was part of the adventure (at least for me).
We arrived and checked into the Excel Inn at "hotel row" near the Green Bay airport. This hotel surprised me. Why was I surprised? Well, because our circa 1978 hotel room, complete with late 70s decor, a non-functioning toilet, and uncomfortable bed — had free WiFi!
I was able to surf the web, check email and log into an IRC channel with the Dana, which was odd while sitting in such an unassuming, average room. Our toilet didn't work (though I managed to fix it later) but I had free WiFi. There was something odd, shocking and wonderful about that realization.
So we slept the night, woke, dressed and packed the van, then walked over to the Denny's restaurant just a few yards from our hotel. While enjoying our breakfast, I overheard a middle-aged man and his wife in the booth ahead of us, casually mentioning WiFi in their conversation. I'd have never paid any attention to their chatter, except for the frequent mentions of "WiFi" floating to my ears from their booth.
It was then I felt sure that WiFi would eventually become ubiquitous in the US.
Just the weekend before I signed up for T-Mobile WiFi service at a Starbucks in Madison, and used free WiFi at the Dunn Bros Coffee shop up the street from Starbucks — both of which were not out of place for a hip town like Madison. You'd expect WiFi all over in a college town, right?
But to receive free WiFi at a low-end hotel in Green Bay (where the toilet didn't work), and to hear a middle-aged couple casually discussing WiFi at breakfast — that seemed a little more unusual and encouraging. When something starts to pop up in average places, that to me is a huge signal it's moving toward the mainstream.
I'm not sure where the trend will lead; already many establishments are enabling WiFi as a value-added service. I can find WiFi at Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, Starbucks, Stone Creek Coffee and also at McDonalds, Excel Inn and the local public library. It seems the pressure will continue to make WiFi more common and expected. Eventually I suspect it'll become so common as to be a free, rather than paid service.
As I continue to experience WiFi appearing in regular daily life, I'll note it and provide a follow-up report here on the blog. If you have unusual experiences with WiFi in regular, everyday circumstances or places, I'd love to read about them in the comments.
By the way, Nathan loved hangin' with Thomas. :-)