2006: The Year of Free Wi-Fi

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The trend of free wireless Internet access in public places is growing, and thatis not likely to change any time soon, according to a MarkeWatch report. Free Wi-Fi access has turned out to be a boon in drawing customers in to local businesses, and municipalities are jumping on board, too.

JiWire tracks wireless Internet access points, and currently has over 100,000 hotspots from around the world in its database. In 2004, there were almost no free public hotspots listed, but in 2005, that number jumped up to 7,000.

Kevin McKenzie, JiWireis CEO, commented "Weive seen a huge increase in shops offering free Internet access as a way to get people in their doors."

Many local independent coffee shops already offer free wireless Internet access as a way to draw customers away from big chains like Starbucks, which offers T-Mobileis fee-based HotSpot service.

Some big name players are getting in on free Internet, too. Sandwich shops Panera Bread and Schlotzkyis Deli offer free service. Barnes & Noble and Fed Ex Kinkois are on the Starbucks side, offering fee-based services instead.

Mr. McKenzie sees more Wi-Fi-enabled devices coming out next year, too. Motorola is already selling Voice over Wi-Fi handsets, and other companies are likely to come to market with Wi-Fi phones and data devices soon.

He sees a very bright future for open and free wireless networks. "Wi-Fi is going to be ubiquitous."

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