It was the perfect parable for our troubled technological times: a young guy sitting in the Soho branch of Starbucks, which had been newly equipped with free wireless internet facilities. His tiny laptop nestling next to his latte, I asked him what the connection speed was like. “It’s great, really fast,” he replied. But the ecstacy quickly turned to agony as he informed me that his mobile phone had just been stolen from under his nose, so engrossed was he in the online experience.
Technology: what it giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. Nevertheless, it is our sacred duty at the start of a year to remain doggedly optimistic – even as we contemplate continued meltdown in financial markets and looming Armageddon.
Wireless internet is clearly making some major inroads into the UK landscape – the tiny handful of hotels, train stations and other semi-public places offering it last year has suddenly blossomed into a quite sizeable collection up and down the country.
My bold and brassy prediction (and what would a new year comment be without one?) is that wireless will be commonplace by the end of the year, with office workers swapping their fag break for a quick trip to the “other office”, laptop tucked under arm. This desk substitute might be a wireless-equipped café or another form of what New Age management gurus like to call the “third space” (which is to say, neither “home” nor “work”).
Of course, wireless internet has been growing in order to fill the huge, gaping hole yet to be filled by long-delayed 3G – third-generation telecoms. The latter do not require you to be tethered to a locally installed wireless transmitter, but simply to connect through the ether.
Hutchison 3G, now renamed simply 3, is cranking up for its belated launch, while the major operators are hoping to make photo messaging more popular by sorting out inter-operability. Meanwhile, a new player on the scene, called AlphaCell, is trying to turn the supply of data over mobile phones into the first big branding opportunity of the year (for the low-down, see alphacell.com).
So, the stage is set for an interesting show-down between wireless and ether, laptop and mobile. My vote remains with the former, at least as long as Starbucks are offering it for free. Plus, it’s harder to nick a laptop.
Robert Dwek, editor email@example.com