The industry that provides wireless local area networks — which give users wireless access to the Internet in public locations such as libraries, airports and coffee shops — is becoming a crowded one.
So many companies are putting up wireless LANs that a recent report by investment research firm ARCchart found that WLAN providers could pose a risk to the success of next-generation (3G) wireless operators. The research firm said WLANs could eat up as much as 64 percent of 3G revenues in the next four years.
Wireless today feels a bit like history repeating. Today, the first transmitters and repeaters that power wireless Internet and Ethernet networks are being strung up around a few cities, office campuses, and even high-tech residential neighborhoods. Hundreds of airports, hotels, and loads of Starbucks coffeehouses offer wireless Internet service to their customers. Even Amtrak has recently begun experimenting with wireless on a few trains. Wireless could change how people interact with the Internet potentially even more than cable modems and DSLs.
I first purchased an 802.11 wireless PCMCIA card for my laptop because I wanted to be able to work around the house and not have to worry about plugging it into a LAN outlet. It was only after I purchased the card, that I discovered that I could also get broadband (for a fee) at all sorts of other locations. It was invaluable on my last trip to New York in February, as I could use it at the San Jose airport, the Dallas airport and JFK, as well as several Manhattan Starbucks. I suspect that five or ten years from now, some sort of wireless broadband connection will be available throughout most cities.