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What's Up With Wireless?

New wireless networks leave you and your electronics free to roam.

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Opportunities to be productive outside the office have been growing for decades, as has the number of workers taking advantage of them. But lately, this trend has been kicked into high gear by the fact that we no longer have to be tethered to a wall to get work done. Invisible radio waves let us use idle moments in airports, hotel rooms and taxicabs. Here are some of the major new pathways making that possible.

  • EV-DO: CDMA providers like and Sprint Nextel are spending billions to create cellular networks nationwide. Verizon already streams video over its network at 400Kbps in more than 170 markets. As with voice calls, though, your experience could vary.
  • EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA: GSM providers are also spending billions on HSDPA upgrades to their EDGE/ UMTS networks. Cingular Wireless hopes to extend its 60-city, 400Kbps-plus service nation-wide by year-end. These providers' 100Kbps-plus EDGE and 1xRTT networks already cover most of . Cellular is being added to laptops and smartphones alongside radios, with seamless voice and data handoffs between the two networks expected before the year's up.
  • Fixed WiMax: Any day now, you'll see wireless ISPs using 802.16d fixed WiMAX to beam data at Wi-Fi speeds over distances previously attained only by narrowband cellular. Speeds and prices should be in the neighborhood of wired broadband, but it will be available to neighborhoods beyond the reach of cable and DSL.
  • Mobile WiMax : Imagine downloading your e-mail to your laptop while you're in the number-two lane of your favorite freeway. That's the promise of Mobile WiMAX: wireless broadband to objects in motion. Alack and alas, 802.16e is still snarled in traffic and won't arrive before 2007.
  • 802.11g with MIMO: "Pre-n" 802.11g adapters are jumping the gun on the upcoming 802.11n standard by using MIMO to bounce multiple signals around a site. These Super G adapters achieve 108Mbps data rates and better coverage for only about $50 more than 802.11g alternatives.
  • 802.11n : Wireless bandwidth is about to take a quantum leap: 802.11n will deliver network-quality digital audio and video using a MIMO schema that delivers data farther and faster. Expect true interoperability among brands, too--but probably not for several months.
  • Wireless USB: If your data has only a short distance to travel--say, 10 to 30 feet--Wireless USB's 480Mbps data rate could make it a very quick trip. Entirely compatible with its wired counter-part, WUSB promises a power-efficient way to move big music, video and data files between and entertainment devices.

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