Imagine sitting in the garden and accessing your main computer 10 or 20 times faster than you can with broadband. Add an Internet connection, and you will be able to send e-mails and surf the Net. You can use the technology to chat to your robot dog, and soon you will even be able to monitor your fridge from the coffee shop next door. By the end of next year, according to analysts at IDC, 1.2 million European homes will have this miracle: a broadband wireless computing network.
I wanted my home to be among the first. Not only did I envision making high-speed wireless connections from everywhere in my apartment, I also hoped to be able to file my TIME copy from Caffè Nero just around the corner. After all, the main technology behind this revolution, called Wi-Fi or 802.11b, claims a 100-m range, well within the distance to a tasty café latte prepared by the delightful Cinzia.
For most people setting up a home wireless network is a doddle. All the pundits say so. Some even claim that getting rid of your cabled connection to the Internet altogether is a simple thing. But for some of us it isn't.
I won't bore you with the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that after three days of nonstop nightmare I was saved by Mike Cook, product marketing manager and technical wizard from Zoom-Hayes, the modem and wireless-gateway manufacturer. After only about four hours he managed to get my various pieces of kit Icon ADSL modem, Zoom wireless gateway, Toshiba laptop and Sony Aibo dog talking to each other.
As for Caffè Nero I had explained my remote access plan to several experts, and they agreed that getting a signal there was unlikely. But Cook had brought a directional antenna surely that would work. One look out my bedroom window across the rooftops that intervened between my computer and the café, however, and he sucked air through his teeth and said: "No chance." You see, Wi-Fi does not like going through walls. Even going from the sitting room to the bedroom in my small flat proved a challenge. The bathroom proved a wall too far.
Still we persevered, and after another hour or two got the directional antenna running. At Caffè Nero, not a sniff of a signal. Yet wireless public access points are being rolled out at coffee shops all over Europe, so I may still be able to file a story and drink a latte at the same time. Probably not soon, though.
If you can't sit in your favorite coffee shop and surf wirelessly, what can you do? Well in my case I can relax on the roof in the sunshine and check the Net, file my copy and connect my laptop back to my office PC. I can, of course, also do this in my sitting room and bedroom. So far, so boring.