Upward Mobility

Wild Blue Yonder

Now that Bluetooth has officially arrived, what's it good for? "Bluetooth is going to be the IrdA of the 2000 decade," says Sanguinetti. "IrdA was in every device you bought in the late '90s. I don't know of anybody who uses it." If you look on your laptop or PDA, chances are you'll find the infrared port Sanguinetti is talking about. Bluetooth will indeed show up in more and more mobile products of all sizes this year, but it has power and flexibility advantages over IrdA that give it a much rosier outlook.

Sanguinetti points to Bluetooth cell phone headsets, automatic PDA to desktop sync links and wireless printing as possible killer apps that could boost Bluetooth adoption. Laptop shoppers are likely to find it either standard or as a common option on PCs. If you buy it now, you won't have to upgrade later when that desirable business application finally comes into reach.

Be forewarned: We're going to spend some quality time with Wi-Fi. The affordable availability of 11Mbps 802.11b was one of the biggest growing business technology stories of 2002. Offices everywhere took to sharing broadband Internet access, files, data and peripherals through the air. The Wi-Fi chapter set to be written in 2003 will be even more exciting.

It's a warm Monday afternoon in New Mexico, and Allan Adler, co-founder and CEO of Santa Fe Wi-Fi network hotspot provider WorkingWild, is sitting in a booth at a pub eating a salad. He's also surfing the Net at high speeds on one of the networks his company installed in locations around the state. He shares his vision of a Wi-Fi future for entrepreneurs everywhere:

"What we are embarking on is a complete revolution in how people think about Wi-Fi," he says. Adler knows that restaurants and coffeehouses, while nice for laptop-users eager to get out of the office for a while, are small potatoes compared to Wi-Fi's big picture. He and co-founder Richard Becker hope to make Wi-Fi hotspots profitable by offering a mix of possible services like wireless media screens or store and employee surveillance capabilities. He calls these "aggregated Wi-Fi applications."

WorkingWild signed a deal with Philips 66 to deploy ZapLane hotspots in 18,000 convenience stores and gas stations. Work some aggregated Wi-Fi applications into the mix, and suddenly you have more than just casual users and early adopters popping in for coffee and a slice of Internet access. For mobile entrepreneurs who spend as much time in their cars as they do in the office, it will bring a whole new convenience to convenience stores. "Fill up your tank, fill up your laptop," Adler says. And there will be a designated netzone parking spot to pull up and log in without leaving your car.

Meanwhile, back in the office, the much-faster 802.11a Wi-Fi standard will start to infiltrate growing businesses in 2003 as the hardware becomes more affordable. "11a is going to be the next frontier for the business use of wireless LAN. The demand for security and high throughput is going to assure the adoption," says Sanguinetti. The strongest signs of 11a will come when laptop manufacturers start to include built-in 11b/11a capabilities. Expect to see these new notebooks appear in the first half of the year. Besides speed, 11a's stronger security features will allay a lot of concerns entrepreneurs have about wireless networks.

Maybe by next January, we'll look back and call 2003 "The Year of the Wireless Entrepreneur." We'll have mobile phones and PDAs that check e-mail, handle calls, take messages (voice and text), and keep our schedules and contacts. We'll have high-speed wireless Internet and business network access in many locations: airports, coffee shops, train stations, convenience stores, hotels and homes. Bluetooth will connect laptops and handhelds to printers and each other. Your business now stretches as far as your wireless technology will take you. Goodbye wires, goodbye walls.

Click This Way
  • mFinder: A huge directory of mobile Internet sites, mFinder is like a Yahoo! specifically geared for the wireless Web.
  • WiFinder.com: No matter where your business takes you, WiFinder.com will help you locate Wi-Fi hotspots along the way. Search by location and by commercial or community sites.
  • Wireless.com: This easy-to-remember domain name gets you to an online community that covers everything wireless, from 3G to satellites. The forums may be especially useful.
  • WirelessNewsFactor.com: A clearinghouse for wireless news, this is a great place to keep up-to-date on wireless tech happenings.
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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Upward Mobility.

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