New Options For High-Speed Internet Access

This winter I traded in dirty city snow for snow 9,600 feet whiter. I took advantage of an opportunity to live in Winter Park, Colorado for the snowy months'close to my beloved ski slopes. You see, I'm one of the growing number of people who telecommute and can work from anywhere. Or, so I thought.

When I made the decision last fall, I thought, "yeah, I can do this. All I really need is a telephone and high-speed Internet access. It really doesn't matter where I am."

After the wheels for my move were in motion, I found out that the new neighborhood in Winter Park where I'd be living had "high-speed Internet access" for about a $1,000 set-up fee, and it was just a tad faster than the dial up. (Insert sound of wheels screeching to a halt.) I almost stayed in Chicago.

How could this be? It never occurred to this Internet-addicted city girl that this was something I needed to consider. After all, I was in southern Vermont when they got 9-1-1 service in 1997. Surely all of Winter Park could access the Internet at true high speed.

Still, I went through with the move. I knew that every month when I received my Skiing magazine, I wouldn't be able to stand the pages mocking me with photos of others schussing down the beautiful, snow covered slopes. I knew I could get a pretty good dial-up connection, a second phone line and, if worse came to worse, about four miles away, the local library had somehow finagled a true high-speed connection.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, otherwise known as "urban," there is Wi-Fi and 3G. If you haven't taken notice yet, this is your wake-up call. In fact, it's important you heed this alarm. The precious commodity of time is simply the first benefit. Waking up and finding out you've been left behind is the scary motivator. For those of us "rural folk," President Bush has set a national goal of "universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007." (I guess he wasn't aware of the fact that I was moving to Colorado for the winter of 2005.)

Let's talk about Wi-Fi and 3G. What are they and why are they important to you and your kitchen and bath firm?

Wireless Freedom

Wi-Fi first. The term is short for "Wireless Fidelity." In layman's terms, Wi-Fi means that if your laptop is Wi-Fi enabled, you can access the Internet from any Wi-Fi location, otherwise known as a freespot, hotspot, zone or cloud. What's a freespot, hotspot, zone or cloud? It can be any location'from a hotel to a Starbucks to an RV park' that has brought in the technology to provide Internet access for a certain area.

Areas are not bordered by walls, though; they're more like an area range. I'll give you an example. My friend Melissa travels quite a bit for work. She loves hotspots, as she can just pop in and check her e-mail, thus not being inundated by missed messages and built up e-mail at the end of her day. She recently checked into a hotel room of a very well known, higher-end chain. When she asked the front desk clerk if the hotel provided Wi-Fi, the clerk responded, "No, but let me check. With the room you're in, if you stand really close to the window, you can pick it up from the bank across the street." Hmmm'no comment on the ethical question.

If you're going to be out of your office all day, hotspots are a great way for you to stay on top of your e-mail, responding to clients and other matters in a timely fashion. Or, again, if you're out of the office all day and you need to check the Web site for your son's school to gauge his homework load for the night, Wi-Fi is a lifesaver.

It's not hard to find hotspots that are near you or in unfamiliar towns. Go online and visit: www.wifi411.com>, www.wi-fihotspotlist.com or www.hotspot-locations.com, just to name a few. Nowadays, many sandwich and coffee-type shops are offering free Wi-Fi to lure you in. Other locations, such as airports, offer Wi-Fi for a cost. The down side is that it can be pricey.

To get online at a hotspot, there are basically two parts to the whole. The first step just happens'probably before you even walk in the door, your computer and the hotspot will immediately recognize each other without you doing anything, as long as your laptop's hardware is on. To gauge this, there normally is an icon on the lower right corner of your laptop that will show the strength of the signal it's picking up.

Each location works a little bit differently. At some locations you must sign on; at others, you don't have to. Typically, you just click on your browser and you're off to the Internet. The exception to the rule tends to be at hotspots where you have to pay for the connection.

A word about security. Hotspots are not the place to do your online shopping, check your bank account or access your company's private files via your Intranet. If you're at a hotspot, you can pretty much assume that anyone can read anything you are typing into your computer, whether they are sitting next to you or are in range of the location from across the street. If you do need to access secure information, you'll need encryption, otherwise known as "VPN," which stands for "Virtual Private Network." For about $10 per month, you'll be able to sign up for the service via a company such as www.HotSpotVPN.com.

The Next Generation

3G stands for "Third Generation." Think "The Jetsons." Depending on whom you talk to, some will tell you that this technology will replace Wi-Fi, while others will tell you it will complement it.

Instead of needing an installed technology and cables as Wi-Fi does, 3G goes anywhere there is cellular service. Because 3G is still in its infancy, Wi-Fi is currently a lot cheaper.

Additionally, our infrastructure in the U.S. is not set up in favor of 3G, as is the infrastructure in Japan. Today's U.S. cellphones use 2G. Tomorrow's cellphones will use 2.5G, and the day after tomorrow's cellphones will be using 3G. Those cellphones will be more in line with today's Blackberry, but you won't be checking just your e-mail. There will be person-to-person video calls, you'll be able to securely move money from one bank account to another, and even watch live events.

I have a feeling the snow will fall and melt into a couple more ski seasons before 3G is available here in the mountains. But, I've gotta run. I have to go knock on a door. Rumor has it that a neighbor up the street is getting pretty good high-speed access for only a $500 set-up fee and that my location just might be up high enough for me to sign up. Keep your fingers crossed!

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