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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Wireless Internet... Don't Freak Out Yet
October 26th, 1999

At MACWORLD NY, Apple introduced the iBook. This brand new product line sports a new technology called AirPort. This lovely toy allows you to surf the Internet without being burdened by a physical wire connecting your machine to a modem or a network. You have to love the antennas they placed near the monitor.

After this great news rocked around the Internet, the first reactions were "oh... ah... weeeeeeeee!" I understand this reaction very well. This made me think that one day that I would have a Mac in one room and my cable modem and fax modem in a different room. It would eliminate some of the wires around the desk, and I would not have to call the telephone company to install one more jack in the room where the computer is.

On the other side, I read complaints. Many users asked why the whole thing was not as wireless as cellular and PCS phones (there is a difference between PCS and cellular). This is where I have to butt in.

A hundred and fifty feet is already a lot when you consider that this wireless Internet technology is just the beginning! It has barely started making its way into personal computers and people want it to be as advanced as the wireless telephone, which has a much longer development period and a much different technology behind it.

To anybody who wants to complain about 150 feet, let me tell you something. I will bet my next paycheck that there are engineers out there who worked their tails off, rarely seeing the light of day, just to stretch wireless networking to that distance. I believe that the same people want to make it possible to network over even longer distances, and that their ultimate goal is to equal the mobile phone concept.

Back to reality: Do not assume that this will happen anytime soon. After all, the mobile phone was not born the day after Alexander Graham Bell created the first phone line. Of course, technology develops at a much faster rate today than it did even a few decades ago. Completely wireless Internet will certainly appear faster than the mobile phone did.

Comparing the mobile phone to wireless networking has other flaws too. Go outside (you have to leave the computer sometime :-) and do some research on mobile telephony. You will notice that for an affordable price, you can get X amount of limited use. When you think about how long this technology has been around, you may wonder how AirPort will ever equal it.

There is another aspect of this discussion that is also important. Mobile phone companies have entire networks to serve their customers. They invested in special installations that relay the signals between your telephone and their network. Many of you may notice when you are driving around, talking on your mobile phone that your connection sometimes drops out. Even with their vast networks, the mobile phone providers still can't make their coverage perfect. So you want AirPort to be powerful enough to send its signal anywhere? Just how big is the transmitter going to be? Think about it for half a second.

For the moment, relax. Let the engineers do their work. When a new toy such as AirPort takes off for the first time, you have to expect some kind of delay before you get exactly what you want. AirPort technology is the beginning, and one day, you will be able to surf the Internet from just anywhere. Meanwhile, life goes on as many people work on making it even better.

This was written by someone who just got his Clearnet PCS :-)

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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