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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Cable firms target wireless users

Agere USB wireless networking device
Devices providing wireless access are getting cheaper
Wireless enclaves are popping up all over the United States, with the promise of providing thousands of users with affordable, high-speed access without being tethered to a telephone line or cable.

Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi, networks may seem like something from the future, but millions of web surfers across North America connect wirelessly to the internet not only from their homes, but in local parks and cafes, too.

The growth in wireless surfing has been fostered by dropping prices for the computer hardware that makes such connections possible.

Now priced at about $200 (140), the gear necessary to access a home-based network is sure to become cheaper as more and more companies churn out such devices.

Grassroots groups hail the proliferation of the devices because it may herald a new era of cheap, easy access to the internet.

Puzzling crackdown

It is precisely that sort of enthusiasm that has cable television firms in New York clamping down on subscribers who offer free access to the firms' networks.

Time Warner Cable, a unit of media giant AOL Time Warner, has issued warnings to about a dozen users it believes use their accounts to provide internet access to others via wireless networks.

While it drums up images of similar crackdowns on those who connect illegally to cable TV systems, finding offenders accessing the internet wirelessly is a touch trickier.

Without wires to trace, it is tough to determine who is getting something for nothing.

For some subscribers, the crackdown is a bit puzzling.

After all, upon establishing such wireless networks within their own homes or apartments, they cannot help it if those within about 300 feet (90 metres) can also access the network.

Princely sum

Security software that would require a password to wireless networks is available, but many users are not aware of it or just do not bother.

Cable firms and other internet service providers (ISPs) admit they are trying to preserve their subscriber base and prevent paying customers from cancelling their service to jump on a free, wireless bandwagon.

AT&T Broadband, another supplier of high-speed internet access in New York, has begun trawling websites to find abusers and it plans to issue warnings to those who misuse its network.

But AT&T, Time Warner and others may have a harder time finding such offenders, given the growing trend in the US by municipalities, businesses and other enterprises that are establishing wireless networks.

They do it with the intention of providing high-speed access for little or minimal cost.

Currently, traditional ISPs charge a hefty fee for high-speed digital-subscriber (DSL) or cable line - about $50 a month in most US cities.

Mobility

Partly in response to the high cost of internet access, wireless networking groups have sprung up all over the US in recent years.

Some, such as Seattle Wireless, do it not with the intention of providing economical, high-speed internet access, but rather to have a propriety network that covers a large, geographical area.

"We don't even rely on the internet at all," says Seattle Wireless founder Matt Westervelt.

"We're building a high-speed network through the city," he says, adding that his goal is to connect as many users as possible to build a system that would parallel the internet.

Such networks may remain the province of tech gurus and nerds who share narrow interests.

Wireless access to the broader World Wide Web provides a boon to anyone who has had to drag a laptop into the next room without disconnecting.

It is just a matter of finding those who can - and are willing - to pay for it.

See also:

16 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
18 Mar 02 | dot life
24 May 02 | Technology
06 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
28 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
06 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
17 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
26 Feb 01 | UK
08 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
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