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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.net.
I'm on the road this week, taking a few days of R&R at a vacation rental in lovely Sequim, Washington.
Naturally, being who I am, I've taken Ask Leo! world headquarters - namely my Dell laptop - with me.
As we walked out of a local grocery store, I noted a sign near that store's coffee counter that said, "Free WiFi".
Free WiFi, in a grocery store, in semi-rural America.
That got me to thinking about the proliferation of wireless internet access, and specifically the various flavors of the 802.11, the standard known as WiFi. It seems like it's everywhere. Even out here. And not only does my rental have WiFi of its own (a standard residential cable service with a wireless access point), but my wireless card shows at least two other unsecured access points within range.
Coffee houses have always been known for providing WiFi, though not always for free. Now with Starbucks recent partnership with AT&T to provide free WiFi to Starbucks customers in its stores, it seems like free WiFi will really be almost everywhere. I could see many for-pay plans falling the way of the 5-1/4 inch floppy.
I also found myself wondering if WiFi, and perhaps internet access itself, has reached some kind of important tipping point. Come this spring, when Starbucks adds its massive footprint to free WiFi coverage it really won't be that unreasonable to simply expect that internet access of some form will be free in almost any reasonably sized city.
If we've reached a tipping point, what does that mean? What new applications and innovations will ubiquitous internet connectivity enable? For example, I was originally very skeptical of the iPhone's use of WiFi - and yet as I walk around this rural town, it's looking like a pretty smart move.
Where else might WiFi now show up? What would you do different if you could simply assume you could find connectivity pretty much wherever you go?
I know one thing that will be impacted, and that's security. All these free WiFi hotspots are unsecure, and many people still don't know the proper steps to protect themselves. And to be fair, those steps aren't always easy or obvious, particularly for the novice, and particularly for random WiFi enabled devices like the iPhone.
As free WiFi usage increases, I predict an increase in identity theft and other WiFi security related issues.
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.net and enter 12253 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.net.
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