Friday, September 01, 2006

Is Wireless For Real?

Sometimes I get a feeling similar to how the main character in The Truman Show felt - that the world is an elaborate show and a lot of what's happening is staged. One example of this is the wireless technology. I am not sure if it's for real or its' users are just pretending that it works.

For years I've heard about the glory and promise of wireless networks. Now and then I would succumb to temptation and give it another shot - always with decisive lack of success. I'll let you be the judge.

Many years ago, our local computer store was selling a product that would allow home networking over phone lines. I thought the idea was neat, since running network cables from room to room is never fun. So, I bought it, plugged in the transmitter in the basement and receiver in my own room upstairs. Then I connected my laptop and waited for the wonders of wireless networking to dazzle me. The signal was barely registering. I tried moving PC from place to place, bringing it closer to the transmitter. Eventually, I got a strong usable signal... when my computer was right next to the transmitter. That didn't seem overly useful, so I've returned the package to the store.

Some time passed and I've read the announcement that our Downtown is now a wireless-enabled zone! The idea of playing online games while getting fresh air seemed enticing, so I've bought a wireless network card and went to investigate. Me and my buddy drove around downtown with the laptop on, looking for the stable connection. A few times a network would register, but never actually strong enough to surf the Web. Eventually, the laptop battery died and the experiment ended.

Fast forward a year ahead. I've curbed my expectations and thought that perhaps there's some limited use for wireless connectivity after all. I bought a wireless router, hoping that I will be able to relax in the backyard, while being online. As I turned on my notebook, standing next to the router, the signal was strong and steady. I began walking away from it, watching the quality of connection like a hawk. It began to decline. As I exited the house, the strength dropped to 0% and my ThinkPad told me: "As far as I am considered, I am offline".

Time went by and our local TGI Fridays proudly advertised that they offer free Wi-Fi access. My brother is a sports addict, so the idea of keeping up with hockey scores while enjoying potato skins was appealing to him. We've packed the laptop and went to the restaurant. Waiter gave us the login and password info. We sat down and booted up the comp. A login screen appeared. We've exchanged hopeful glances. We entered the login info and clicked Submit. The browser paused, sat at 'opening connection' for a while and timed out. Additional attempts did not help. Our waiter turned out to be somewhat computer-illiterate person and couldn't assist. So, another try, another miss.

All is not lost though. A couple of weeks ago, our apartment complex was out of power and as I surfed the ABC news site on my cell phone, I realized that wireless is indeed useful - at least as long as you have no electricity.

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