August 02, 2011

8.02.11: WiFi Day in a Wireless World

If you asked my wife, she'd tell you I put wireless access as a higher priority above practically any other essential element key to life, with the possible exception of Diet Coke. The need for always-on anywhere Internet access, essentially, a key to connecting you to the rest of the world at all times from any location, is so strong that as bleeding-edge humans, we've come to expect ubiquitous wireless access on all our devices.

It's no longer a question of whether places we go have wireless, but if it's open, and if it's fast enough to satiate our immediate need to get connected rapidly. Barring WiFi, God forbid, the expansion of 3G and 4G-connected smartphones and other devices helps fill in the gaps. With today's date amusingly spelling out 8.02.11 for those Roman Calendar toting, Western Hemisphere inhabiting people, it's  interesting to remember just how far we've come from a world of tethered Web connections just over a decade ago to this expanding world of mobility.

I wasn't the first to note the day on Twitter, but many folks noticed.

My first real view of WiFi, after curiosities like the cellular-based Ricochet wireless network on the UC Berkeley campus, came with Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller's debut of the first iBook in 1999, a G3-based tangerine colored consumer notebook which came bundled with pokey 802.11 wireless and held a Web connection, loading pages even as Phil jumped from a tall ledge and later passed the laptop through a Hula Hoop to demonstrate its true wireless capability. While Apple was the first major laptop manufacturer to jump headfirst into wireless, others soon followed, to the point that Dell and other PC makers took the lead in consumer awareness, until eventually having wireless wasn't a differentiator but commonplace. I remember arguing with my fellow Macheads at the time on Web discussion boards that this was a battle lost through not fighting.

Regardless of brand bias, our wireless world extended to laptops, tablets, phones, wrist watches, scales and all sorts of other items. Wireless networks got faster and faster, and homes, offices, buildings, campuses, stadiums, and even entire cities gained free wireless access that was open to visitors. Hotels that once could charge $15 a night for you to tap into their mediocre and filtered Ethernet port now have to contend with smart visitors packing their own Web and remote employees are bringing their own hotspots.

I've told my wife, much to her chagrin, that even our holiday spots need wireless, or I'll go nuts. Previous trips have been marred by subpar Web access, even to the point where those shortcomings were more notable than the experience itself. The truth is, high speed wireless is critical. We're just a few years away, I believe, from pervasive, high quality wireless anywhere, and I hope we can scoff on the minor issues we see today with congestion, slowness and even pockets without access. We've come a long way, but have much further to go.