ENHANCED WI-FI ACCESS will result as engineers give wireless networks the automated "smarts" they need to deal with the growing number of mobile users trying to get on the Internet. Image: PETER HOOEY
People love Wi-Fi access to the Internet. More and more, they are using the wireless connection technology at Starbucks caf¿s, in airport lounges and at home. Wi-Fi seems irresistible because it makes the Net available to users anytime, anywhere. It provides fast communications links that allow e-mail messages to appear almost instantly and Web pages to paint computer screens quickly--all with the mobility and freedom that has made cell phones nearly ubiquitous.
Pyramid Research, a communications industry research firm, predicts the global number of Wi-Fi users could top 271 million by 2008, with 177 million of them in the U.S. Today's Wi-Fi community already supports a vibrant international business in Wi-Fi equipment, estimated at about $3 billion annually, according to extrapolations of figures produced by In-Stat, another market research company. But the very popularity of Wi-Fi also brings problems. As Wi-Fi networks become ever more heavily used, they may be unable to handle the expanded traffic, causing clients' devices to become bogged down with slow service and long delays.