At 10:00 PM, on Saturday, Oct. 22, my wife, eight days past her due date, let out a small yelp and started her Lamaze breathing. My mind racing, I dutifully fired up the car to go to the hospital and threw the bags in the back. Then I dashed back into the house to grab one last essential: my laptop.
I had no idea why I was taking the laptop along. I felt strangely conflicted about it. As far as I knew, there would be no Internet access at the hospital. And even if there was, what kind of a husband thinks about his computer at a time like that? Surely, I could live without it for a few days. But after a mercifully short delivery, Evelyn Grace was sleeping quietly on her mother's chest, and I was tapping out e-mails to friends, family and coworkers, attaching digital photos of our new 7-pound bundle of joy.
Not only did the hospital provide Internet access; it offered a free high-speed WiFi network specifically for patients who prefer not to drop off the face of the earth while they convalesce. It got me thinking about how far wireless broadband has come in just the past few years. WiFi networks seem to be just about everywhere I want them to be these days. Hotels, airports, libraries, corporate campuses, convention centers, vacation rentals, even entire cities are being blanketed by this cheap, effective way to connect to the Internet.
And yet there is still a long way to go. As Debra D'Agostino points out in this month's Strategic Technology section on wireless broadband (see page 79), the ultimate goal of mobile technology is to combine the ubiquity of the cellular networkif a bit more reliable, one hopeswith the speeds of today's WiFi hotspots. Nothing less will satisfy the voracious demand for high-speed Internet access, anytime, anywhere.
As much as it pains me to admit this, we are still dependent on the lethargic telecom giants and their sclerotic networks to deliver the wireless goods. No one else would dare build out a new nationwide network in this economic climate. And I fear the carriers have backed the wrong horse in 3G, a technology that's fantastically expensive to implement but improves data speeds only incrementally. Though limited to a range of only a couple of hundred feet, WiFi has whetted the public's appetite for wireless broadband, and using 3G after WiFi is like going from DSL to dial-up. It's time for the telecom carriers to abandon dead-end 3G buildouts and embrace the next generation of wireless broadband, WiMax.
It will take time, and money, but maybe, by the time my daughter is in college, a nationwide wireless broadband network will be a reality.