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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 05:01 GMT 06:01 UK
UK beach gets wireless web
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

A group of internet enthusiasts have given a new meaning to the expression of surfing on the beach.

Volunteers try out the wireless web on Brighton beach
Would you like to work on the beach?
They have set up a wireless network in the English seaside town of Brighton so that you can browse the web or read your e-mails while you soak up the sunshine.

The service, called PiertoPier, is being offered free to anyone who has the right gear and relies on volunteers and donations to keep it alive.

"We all live in Brighton and we want to work on the beach," explained Alex Studd of internet provider Moving Edge which is backing the project.

The organisers have been talking about taking the web to the beach for some time.

But it was only some five months ago when they started work on making this into a reality.

Free as air

The network went into beta testing at the beginning of July and the backers say they expect to have a full service available within a month.

Alex Studd
The cost of internet connectivity is becoming cheaper by the month so we don't anticipate any problems
Alex Studd, Moving Edge
There is growing interest in wireless technology, called wi-fi, which allows people to connect to the internet at broadband speeds without the need to plug in any cables.

Currently there are about 1,000 so-called public hotspots available throughout Europe in places such as airports, cafes and hotel lobbies. In most cases, these charge for a connection.

By contrast, the idea behind PiertoPier is to make the net as free as the air. It is backed by various internet access and software companies in the Brighton area.

These sponsors have paid for the computer hardware and have donated the internet bandwidth, while volunteers provide the necessary support.

All in all, the cost of setting up wi-fi on Brighton beach has been less than 1,000.

"We like to be cost-effective as we can do more," explained Mr Studd. "In a place like Brighton where there is high connectivity, we can write off the cost."

"And the costs are only ever going to go down. The cost of internet connectivity is becoming cheaper by the month so we don't anticipate any problems in the foreseeable future."

Salt, sand and water

It could be that the best day to go to the beach to use the internet is a cloudy day
Ian Fogg, Jupiter Research
The organisers of the PiertoPier project see it as the hi-tech equivalent of community radio.

They are part of a community which aims to allow people to go online from anywhere without having to pay costly bills.

The idea of working from the beach has it attractions, but it can also have its dangers, warn experts.

"If you like the net and you like the beach, this is a great combination," said Ian Fogg, wi-fi analyst at Jupiter Research.

"The real problem - apart from the salt, apart from the sand, apart from the water - is that the screens on many of these PDAs and laptops don't work that well in sunlight.

"It could be that the best day to go to the beach to use the internet is a cloudy day."

You can hear more on the PiertoPier project on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

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