Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wireless Computing on the Go

By: Alison Brundle

Wi-Fi was probably one of the most revolutionary transitions in modern times. Before the advent of Wi-Fi or wireless computing technology, users were tethered to their desks, routing everything through a LAN line and restricted in where they used their faster and more powerful computing technology by how long their cables were. Wi-Fi changed all that. Suddenly, you had a mobile network that allowed people the freedom to roam and still connect to the Internet and their emails.

A Sociological Transformation

It is easy to underestimate the impact of wireless computing. It has become a common sight to see cafés full of people all connected up to a server, yet not a cable in sight. An entire business has grown up around wireless computing – the Internet café – that lets anyone, for a small charge, piggyback the establishment’s Wi-Fi connection and surf to their hearts content. It is even possible to connect wirelessly using a mobile phone – a situation that would have been unthinkable 25 years ago when you were lucky if you could connect to another phone number using the first mobile 'bricks’, let along the fledgling Internet.

It has released the constraints of an old system of doing business. But how does wireless computing actually work?

There are two types of what has become known as ‘wireless’ Internet – either connection through a router (your standard Wi-Fi) or through the mobile phone network. Wireless routers are the most common form of land based system, and are fundamentally a small connection box that allows a signal to be shared between several computers. Basically, computers ‘tap in’ to the signal, which can be made even easier by adding a wireless interface card. These usually come as standard with most new laptops, but can be bought as a separate add-on. USB routers and dongles also give anyone the power to be able to tap into any wireless signal, creating their own ‘access points’ through which the computer can send and receive network data.

Another key component of wireless computing is the actual hardware itself, namely the laptop. There is some contention as to who actually invented the concept of the laptop, but most cite Adam Osborne as the originator of the modern day laptop in 1981, although the ‘clam-shell’ design was attributed to William Moggridge and developed for GRiD Systems Corporation in 1979. It is difficult now to imagine life without laptops, yet it has only been a little over 30 years since their original conception. But probably the biggest influence on wireless computing was the development of WAP for mobile phones, allowing anyone to connect to the Internet using their mobile phone technology. Today, we feel short-changed if our mobile phone can’t connect to the Internet on demand, 24/7.
What future for wireless computing?

The question of wireless computing’s future is uncertain. Many believe that wireless computing has reached its full potential – we now have almost universal coverage thanks to a global satellite system creating a web across the world with very few ‘blind spots’. Smart phones are feature-rich and future-proofed to a certain extent, and laptops are smaller, lighter and more processor powerful than ever. The only area that can really see any form of development to enhance wireless computing is in the field of battery-life. The most up to date laptops and Netbooks can achieve up to nine hours on one battery, but after that you are still forced to tether up to a power source to keep your laptop running – hardly a ‘wireless’ situation by any stretch of the imagination. So for wireless computing to move to a new level and give us true autonomy and control about where and when we use our computers, manufacturers have to address the knotty problem of that infuriating ‘low battery’ symbol. Perhaps then we’ll have truly wireless computing on the go