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The Ubiquity of WiFi

WiFiThis 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).

dana_w.jpgWe 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. :-)

Reader Comments (7)

Didn't know you got Thomas the Tank Engine in the US, I thought it was just a UK phenomenon! I'm sure Nathan enjoyed it anyway.As far as WiFi goes where I live I have been pleasantly surprised to see the national phone provider (BT) installing transmitters in many regular payphone booths, if you are within 50m or so you have access (paid though). This in addition to the growing eateries and airports libraries etc. A few other providers are installing Broadband speed WiFi (very paid for!) as long as you are within a major urban area.Me... happy with my Treo 650 right now - Wi-Fi? we don' need your steenken WiFi... well until Palm get it together with an SD card for the 650 ;-)
June 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDavymac
Yeah, your whole post fell on deaf ears. Here in central MO, anything related to hi-speed anything is, well, foreign. :)

So, I'll comment on the part of your post that I *did* understand.

THOMAS!! That would be a very very fun day!
June 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMary
MikeEven in Mexico WiFi use is very common, I've been in Baja for a few months and have been able to use WiFi at campgrounds, a place I never expected to find WiFi.Cheers
June 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterchinchorrero
Davy: Interesting tidbit about BT payhones. I've only noticed payphones dissapearing here in Milwaukee though � muyst be diffeent there. As for wireless of the non-WiFi kind � it surely is more available in more places, though often it can be pricey. :-)

Mary: Heh, hi-speed and central MO don't mix, eh? Well, I think within 10 years it's likely it will even penetrate that area. And Thomas was a blast, for Nathan and for us!

Chinchorrero: Interesting tidbit about Baja! I would never consider a campground either, though here in Milwaukee a few County parks have free WiFi, if you can believe that!

Thanks everyone for the comments. :-)
June 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
What do you think of certain cities who have tried to create free wifi (I.E. Miami [I think]) and have determined that it cost too much money to keep up. Is this a blow to wifi, or just a sign that wifi must be used in a more capitalistic environment, such as hotels attracting guests or coffee shops making their environment more suitable for customers?
June 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJordan Arentsen
I think this is maybe too broad -- besides the fact that the carriers for mobile service are not keen on losing their control. So, I think it might instead come from three directions:

1. Individual businesses as value-added service (hotels, coffee shops, etc who just add a WiFi router to their cable or DSL service)

2. Coffee shops, etc who use T-Mobile, FreedomLink, etc. (or in other words, the carriers)

3. Limited public service, limited to specific public areas such as parks or squares (Milwaukee is already doing this in some parks)

I think by letting smaller local businesses and entities to provide WiFi in their own interest is probably the most likely route... but carriers will also move into this market and probably charge -- though I think it will become less as WiFi is more common.

Well, at least that's what I hope anyway. :-)
June 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Check out what is doing in Portland, Oregon.

(And I love Thomas too.)

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