The Week in Review: More Airport Access, Convergence Ho!

By Kevin Reichard

February 01, 2002

We kick off our weekly news summary with a look at how some of the busiest airports in the United States are being outfitted with 80211 access.

There is a flood of news coming our way regarding 80211 networking. Most of it makes its way into our News section, but there are many items that are worth noting but not worth a full article. In this weekly summary, I'll bring those tidbits to you.

First off: my local airport is getting sitewide 80211 coverage, starting on March 1 or so.

Most folks would not consider that to be news, but here's the kicker: my local airport is Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (one of the busiest in the United States, as anyone who's ever flow Northwest Airlines knows), and the move to wire my airport is part of a larger initiative by Concourse Communications and iPass to wire several airports across the United States, including Newark International, Detroit Metro, and New York City's LaGuardia and JFK airports.

What makes this different from other 80211 airport installations? For starters, the entire airport will be wired. In most airports, only the airline clubs are wired, which means you need to be a member of the club to get service (unless you hang around outside the club and hope that 80211 coverage spills into the concourses). With airport-wide coverage, you'll be able to wait at your gate -- or a Chili's or a Starbuck's -- and access the wireless network. Concourse is reportedly spending $250,000 per airport, with proceeds split between Concourse and the local airport authorities.

You'll still need to pay to access the 80211 network -- that's the point of having iPass, which will handle billing, as a partner in the project. Access fees have not yet been announced.

This will also benefit travelers who don't have their own laptops and wireless LAN card -- Concourse is also using the 80211 network to connect kiosks throughout the airports. You'll be able to walk up, insert your credit card, and access the Internet using these 80211-connected kiosks. 

Meanwhile, Amtrak has unveiled Internet-connected train cars on three lines: the Acela Regional in the Northeast, the Capitols in Northern California, and the Hiawathas in the Midwest. These trains won't be using 80211 technology, alas, but they will have Compaq iPaqs connected with wireless modems available free of charge. (If you're a passenger on those lines, you don't be able to miss the cars with the wireless capabilities: they will be wrapped with giant Yahoo! logos.)

If this promotion is a success, the next logical step would be to outfit some cars with 80211 networking. For Amtrak, this would be a way of attracting premium passengers (i.e., businesspeople who could work on a wireless connection -- something they can't do on an airplane) and adding another sorely needed revenue stream (access fees).

From the Interesting-Press-Releases Department

RF Solutions, a developer of semiconductor products, has announced the impending release of CellLAN, a wireless transceiver that supports 80211a, 80211b, 80211g, and traditional cellular (GSM/GPRS/WCDMA) networks.

If this works, it's a huge advance in the convergence of wireless phones and wireless networks. There are some obvious politics attached to this convergence: the telcos don't like to give up any of their turf, and they obviously won't be thrilled when some larger corporations decide to use 80211 networks internally for telephony. The challenge for the telcos will be to support wireless -- and given their record in supporting new technologies, I'm not optimistic -- and if they fail, there may be a huge market opportunity for someone else to come in and push the convergence.

WiFi, Bluetooth, or Infrared?

Epson has entered the 80211 space with the introduction of the Stylus C80WN, a color inkjet printer with a WiFi receiver connected to its parallel port. It's expected to retail for $449, but Epson is offering a $50 introductory rebate.

This is one of those instances where I don't think wireless makes a lot of sense. I used to use a Logitech wireless mouse in my daily work; it was convenient, but it wasn't worth the extra dollars over the prices of a corded mouse. When the Logitech wireless mouse died, I went back to a cheapo wired mouse. Similarly, I don't envision many situations where a single user would need a wireless printer -- those in the SOHO space can't afford to pay a premium for a wireless inkjet printer (the other day I saw a perfectly good Lexmark inkjet printer at my local SuperTarget for $30, which shows how cheap low-end printers have become), and this printer is not robust enough for most corporate situations. Epson seems to think that folks will put this in their living room and use it while surfing the Web and watching TV. We'll see.

Besides, we've had wireless printers for some time: most of us forget that HP has supported printer infrared connections. And how many of us have ever actually printed a document via an infrared connection? 

Kevin Reichard is executive editor of

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.