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Soumik Sen | October 04, 2003

Is this the perfect solution for the busy executive who travels with his laptop slung over his shoulder?

If this busy executive checks into Delhi's Oberoi Hotel he can now stay connected to the Internet anywhere in the hotel.

He can move into cyberspace from his room. Or, he could head to the coffee shop and still be linked to different parts of the world. And the best part is: look Ma, no wires.

How's it done? With a new technology that's catching on swiftly around the world called wi-fi, which allows users to connect to the Internet without wires. Access is possible when an individual is located within a 'hotspot'.

In India, there are already about 100 such hotspots in hotels and in office blocks. Scores of other hotels and companies are looking to become wi-fi enabled.

Logging on in cyberspace via wi-fi can be a bit costly if you happen to be in a five-star hotspot like the Oberoi. The hotel charges Rs 800 for 24 hours of wi-fi connectivity.

But, if you are willing to fork out this much, the procedure is quite simple. The hotel gives you a PC-MC card, which has to be inserted into your laptop. Of course, you must have a wi-fi enabled laptop.

But those are five-star rates. Another popular hangout joint, which is becoming wi-fi enabled is the Barista chain. Amble in, order a cup of coffee, switch on your laptop and hey, presto. Barista charges about Rs 40 per hour.

Wi-fi isn't only for travellers who can't bear to be away from cyberspace for too long. It is also being used in some offices to set up wireless-based local area networks.

Currently, all computers in an office are connected to a central server via endless streams of cable. With wi-fi all that cabling can be dispensed with and the advantages are obvious.

Wireless-based LANs can be installed in places where wires can't reach, and it's particularly useful for organisations that want to set up base temporarily.

Additionally, network expansion and reconfiguration is uncomplicated, and users can be added to the network simply by installing a wireless LAN adapter to the client device.

Similarly, wi-fi can turn a home into a hotspot and release PC users who are tired of being bonded to a desk.

For people with a personal and professional lifestyle that demands frequently changing environments, this results in great savings.

Abroad, wi-fi is catching on swiftly. Public places like airports are quickly switching on to the new system.

There are moves to make Bangalore airport a hot spot. Even MTNL is reported to be setting up hotspots at upmarket restaurants and other entertainment places.

But what do you need to 'go wi-fi'? Quite simply, a wi-fi enabled mobile computer or laptop, with a socket into which one can insert a PC-MC card.

There is, for instance, Hewlett Packard's wi-fi ready notebook, the nx9000. Priced at Rs 96,000, the HP nx9000 portable provides "untethered", campus-wide network and Internet access.

The wi-fi or wireless fidelity technology enhanced notebook allows mobile professionals secure high-speed access to email and other business applications using virtually any wireless LAN or mobile access device.

HP recently announced that from now, all its laptops will be wi-fi enabled.

Apple is even further ahead in the wi-fi game. The company currently ships a slew of products that are wi-fi enabled. There is, for instance, the iBook 800, priced at Rs 64,800 and the higher-end iBook 900 priced at Rs 99,100.

For advanced requirements like an 80 GB hard disk drive, a 17-inch monitor and built-in wi-fi card and Bluetooth, there is the Powerbook G4 priced at Rs 1,88,900.

Moreover, apart from just connecting to the Internet, wi-fi enabled laptops can also be used to 'talk to' connected desktops. For example, your Mac could be used to 'talk' to your office server.

That way you can access your office mails when you are on the move. For this technology you need to use Apple's Airport brand Extreme Base Station (that's Apple's wi-fi hardware).

But the biggest splash of all has been created by homegrown PC giant Zenith, which, this week, has announced the launch of wi-fi compatible laptops at 'MNC desktop prices'.

It has just launched wi-fi compatible laptops with a Pentium 4 processor at Rs 62,000 and Celeron equivalents at Rs 53,000 plus taxes.

But while these options are for the individual, the corporation would need to make a one-time investment of Rs 17,000 for the wi-fi base station and Rs 7,000 for every node, which connects the server to the laptops without wires.

Apple's Airport helps provide wireless Internet access to users within a campus. It allows simultaneous Internet connection through a common access point for as many as 50 users over 150 feet.

Any node on the airport network can be connected to another airport base station to expand the network.

It isn't only Apple, which is moving quickly. One Indian company, which is setting up hotspots is Tulip computers. And Cisco systems too has wi-fi enabling products that come in a similar price range to connect up the entire office.

Will wi-fi be the technology that changes the world once again, even if ever so slightly?

And will it be the technology that enables desk-bound executives to break free of their wires and fetters once and for all?

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