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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 11/6/2002And it came to pass that the government did not spend the entire week being evil and/or galumphing idiots: the DTI announced that the restrictions on public access wireless networks would be removed on 31 July. This lets cafes, pubs and other public places sprout 802.

Tuesday 11/6/2002

And it came to pass that the government did not spend the entire week being evil and/or galumphing idiots: the DTI announced that the restrictions on public access wireless networks would be removed on 31 July. This lets cafes, pubs and other public places sprout 802.11 wireless access hotspots for their punters -- not that they haven't been, of course, even if the 'public access' part isn't always entirely planned.

There is so much happening here, I could fill a magazine. A new acronym for you to enjoy is NLOS, or Non-Line-Of-Sight: this is the generic term for systems like mesh wireless where the users also route third-party traffic. Everyone becomes their own little hotspot, and ad-hoc networks fan out across a city like umbrellas opening in the rain. People like Nokia have become unfeasibly excited by this idea -- which will work just fine with 802.11b, and even more so with 802.11a as it uses all that extra bandwidth. There are standards coming up, there is hardware being made, there are even business plans being created. The potential is huge -- if everyone is their own router, who needs a network infrastructure provider? -- and the tech is cheap. IBM is rumoured to be close to rolling out a US-wide Wi-Fi network, perhaps using some of these ideas, and who's putting money on 3G these days?

At the other end of the spectrum -- sorry -- there are tons of new digital fun things on the air. Radio hams are prone to complain that all this new digital stuff is filling the airwaves with so much crud they can't hear each other speak. True enough, up to a point, but hook your shortwave radio up to your laptop and you can pick up signals just as faint and distant as always. All those advanced modulation techniques used in commercial wireless stuff are just as tasty for the dedicated anorak -- go look up PSK31 if you're interested -- and the thrill of getting messages from someone on a hill outside Adelaide with a few feet of wire and a bit of software is just as good as pulling morse out of the air by ear. If you like that sort of thing.

Which I do. It doesn't make you a bad person.