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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
New Yorkers enjoy wireless web
New York's Fifth Avenue
Wi-fi access points dotted around New York
Going online without any wires dangling from the back of your PC is one of the fastest growing trends in computing. BBC World ClickOnline's Ian Hardy reports on how New Yorkers are adopting Wi-Fi technology.
Bryant Park is not your traditional urban open space. It was the first of several public places in New York to install a Wi-Fi network.

Anyone can sit in a corner connected to the world, thanks to a series of unobtrusive aerials throughout the park that allow anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop to log on for an unlimited time.

"Bryant Park is in the middle of 300 million square feet of office space that constitutes the mid-town Manhattan office market," explained Daniel Biederman, executive director of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.

"There are thousands of people who would like to be close to their offices with cellular phone and internet services, but able to work outside as if they were around a pool or in their back yard."

High speed net

Wi-Fi means you could work from anywhere, even a coffee shop with a free network.


You can do things above and beyond checking your e-mail. You can even stream music over the internet

Scott Matthews, software developer
But coffee shops are just the beginning. Eventually, schools, supermarkets and even buses might provide always-on wireless access.

As long as there is a signal, people like software developer Scott Matthews can work and play on the internet wherever, whenever.

"Wi-Fi is more than just internet access; it's actually high-speed internet access," said Mr Matthews.

"You can do things above and beyond checking your e-mail. You can even stream music over the internet.

"For instance, I can actually play music that's stored on my computer at home over the internet over the Wi-Fi on to my laptop wherever I happen to be," he said.

Universal access

But there is a battle brewing in the Wi-Fi world between public space advocates and corporations.

Starbucks coffee shop
Starbucks: Offering more than just coffee
Starbucks, for example, offers wireless service in 1,200 of its stores but is charging up to $50 a month for the privilege.

"There'll be a number of ways in which people can use the service; pay as you go, as well as creating unique opportunities for subscriptions," said Howard Schultz, chief executive officer of Starbucks.

"I believe people will leverage their time in an appropriate fashion but there'll be no limits in terms of how much time people could use the capability."

If every Wi-Fi location in Manhattan were to charge $50 a month, the average person would quickly lose interest.

A group called New York City Wireless believes Wi-Fi should be universally available for free throughout the city and are volunteering to equip many locations.

They also publish a list of willing individuals who make their home Wi-Fi connections accessible to anybody within range.

Passers-by can simply stop on the street and log on with a handheld computer.

'Way of the future'

Time Warner, one of the largest suppliers of internet access in America, is extremely upset that bandwidth is being shared like this.


You're in the general area of someone else's bandwidth and as long as that person says it's ok, then what's wrong with sharing it?

John Klos, New York City Wireless
"I think that Time-Warner is caught in the same way that the music industry is caught," said John Klos of New York City Wireless.

"They don't realise that this is the way of the future, that they have to adapt. They think that they can just simply take their ideas and force people to stick in this mindset.

"It can be compared with going to someone's house and they have a really nice CD collection so you go thorough it and want to listen to some of it while you're there," he explained.

"It's the same idea. You're in the general area of someone else's bandwidth and as long as that person says it's ok, then what's wrong with sharing it?" he asked.

The confrontation will undoubtedly intensify when millions of people, rather than thousands, decide to go wireless.

At the moment, it is unclear who will prevail - those who want to ensure unlimited public access anywhere or those who are only willing to offer individual subscriptions.


ClickOnline is broadcast on BBC World at various times across the globe.
See also:

18 Mar 02 | dot life
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
08 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
06 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
23 Jul 02 | Technology
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