By Bob van der Valk
It is necessary to explain in somewhat confusing terms the revolutionary technology that will forever change lives in Prairie County. Bear with me and you will understand how Wi-Fi (pronounced /waɪfaɪ/) will influence your life in a very direct way.
Wi-Fi is the trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi_Alliance> that manufacturers use to brand certified products that belong to a class of wireless local area network (WLAN) devices.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first approved the use of unlicensed bands of the airwaves decades ago. This started a revolution in consumer electronics — first in television remote controls and garage door openers, then in baby monitors and cordless phones, and most recently in wireless computer networks.
The FCC is now ready to approve what could be an even bigger expansion of the unlicensed airwaves, opening the door to supercharged Wi-Fi networks that will do away with the need to find a wireless hot spot and will provide the scaffolding for new applications that have not yet even been imagined.
We currently have businesses in Prairie County having Wi-Fi access for their customers. The Badlands Café and Scoop Shoppe, Dizzy Diner, Kempton Hotel, Lazy JD Bar & Restaurant, Sassy One Clothing and Terry Tribune all have publicly accessible Wi-Fi connections. This has become an economic necessity for people using cell phones, computer lap tops and other PDA devices, which all hook up to the Internet through Wi-Fi connections, without being charged for data use by their cell phone carriers.
What is referred to in the industry as “Wi-Fi on steroids” will bring stronger, faster networks and will extend broadband signals to bypassed rural areas and allow for smart electric grids, remote health monitoring and, for consumers, wireless Internet without those annoying dead zones.
Making the airwaves available for free by the FCC is bypassing the possibility of using them to generate revenue. The FCC is virtually certain to approve the new rules at its Sept. 23 meeting, because it already approved a similar set of rules in November 2008.
Some new devices undoubtedly will serve health care applications, allowing hospitals to move equipment easily without rewiring or allowing them to monitor patients in remote settings. And so-called smart grids — systems that allow a power company to track consumption and generation more closely or to control appliances from a central location — are also likely.
The fact that new applications can use unlicensed airwaves is important as an economic development tool attracting cash-poor, start-up companies and transforming the economy in rural areas like Prairie County forever.
Published Sept. 15, 2010