See Inside October 2005

Smart Wi-Fi

Wireless access to the Internet via Wi-Fi is increasingly popular, so the technology is being upgraded to ensure that users get prompt, reliable service


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.

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