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Wi-Fi Is a Welcome Wave of Innovation


It's spring. Optimism, renewal, and growth are in the air. With the worst of the war worries behind us, the nation is turning its attention to the economy. What is it finding? Earnings estimates are rising, consumer confidence is returning, productivity is barreling along, and the high-tech revolution is alive and well. Witness the Wi-Fi revolution, now moving from city streets to Corporate America. After three years of bad news on Wall Street, a recession, and a tepid recovery, it's good to see that America's creative juices are still flowing.

Like cells phones, Wi-Fi untethers people. It links them to the Net without hardwired connections. Wi-Fi uses unregulated radio spectrum to link high-speed internet connections to computers within 300 feet. Like other grassroots tech revolutions (Napster, Linux), Wi-Fi began with kids doing their own thing -- in this case, building Wi-Fi "hot spots" in San Francisco, New York, Portland, Ore., and other cities. Now, the challenge is to take these jury-rigged locations and build reliable, secure national and international Wi-Fi networks. Intel (INTC), IBM (IBM), and AT&T (T) have teamed up to do just that. Intel has a new Wi-Fi chip, the Centrino, and Dell (DELL), Apple (AAPL), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) are making their new laptops and PCs Wi-Fi ready. Starbucks already sells access to the net via Wi-Fi in many of its stores, and McDonald's is following. The biggest market may be Wi-Fi-ing people's homes.

It's easy to get breathless about innovation. Building a business model off Wi-Fi that actually generates profits is still a work in progress. But watching this new technology bubble up from the streets is a wonderful reminder that innovation is alive and well in the U.S.


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