A wireless tomorrow?

Recently I spent two days at one of my favorite spots in the world, the Isthmus of Catalina Island. Just a little over twenty miles off the Southern California coast, it’s a fun sail and a wonderfully unspoiled, quiet and relaxing location.

This visit however I was amazed to see a number of people using their laptop computers to connect to the Internet over a wireless connection now available at the Isthmus. Boy, how times have changed.

If you follow the computer press, you hear more and more about how “wireless” is going to be the future. Wireless, as you may know, uses radio waves instead of wires to connect computers to one another and to the Internet. We now use wireless routers with their little antennas to connect to our home computers. And each computer has a little wireless adapter with its antenna that lets the computer talk to the router. Kits to set up home wireless networks can be had for less than one-hundred dollars. If you use a laptop computer, most new ones come with a wireless adapter built in or inexpensive wireless adapter plug in cards can be purchased. So wireless can be fixed or mobile. And Windows XP makes it easy to set up a home network.

If we can easily set up a home network, why not do the same thing at a place like the Isthmus or Starbucks or at the airport? Inexpensive equipment and Internet connections are available to merchants from such suppliers as T-Mobile and others so these Wi-Fi “hotspots” are becoming ubiquitous. Visit any coffee shop today and you see any number of people drinking their lattes and typing away at their laptops.

Let’s now extend this concept a little further and consider setting up a whole city as a wireless hotspot. Maybe we get a router with its antenna and set up repeaters on lamp poles around the city. Now people anywhere within the radio range can connect to the Internet and browse the web or check their email. This is not quite as easy as it sounds but it is happening around the country in places like Philadelphia and our own Long Beach. Long Beach currently has a two million bit per second wireless “cloud” covering a large part of the city and plans to expand this coverage. Incidentally, the telephone companies have been a little upset with this expansion of wireless and there have been lawsuits challenging its wide area use.

What does this mean to you and me? If we are so inclined, we can take our laptops, with a fully charged battery, to any number of places and check our email or just browse the Internet. There are a few unwritten rules for using free wireless. Some places get upset if you connect and then don’t purchase a cup of coffee, etc. Some places ask you to register to obtain your free password. Most places don’t have electrical connections so charge your battery beforehand. You may have to watch some advertisements to enjoy your “free” access. And little or no help will be available since the employees aren’t techies. Finally, anything you do over a wireless connection is not secure unless you encrypt. So be prudent, drink your coffee and don’t email anything you wouldn’t want read in court.

I’m intrigued to see where wireless is going and maybe one of these days will get a wireless adapter for our laptop and visit a local Starbucks.

If you would like to hear more about wireless hotspots or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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