Rhodri Marsden: Cyberman

From cable guys to wireless wonders
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The Independent Online

It appears that the British aren't that keen on computing outside the home or office, but if they're forced to, they'd rather be connected to the internet with a good old-fashioned cable. A survey conducted by Toshiba reveals that 97 per cent of laptop owners have never gone online in a coffee shop, and nearly one-fifth of those cited security of the network as the main reason.

By contrast, more and more of us are installing pathetically insecure wireless networks in our own homes, excitedly setting them up, removing the single redundant cable, and marvelling for a few seconds before getting back to work. Domestically, at least, we're embracing wireless connections.

Technology companies, however, are mistaking this enthusiasm for a wholehearted endorsement of what they call the "wireless digital home". They talk about "connecting home with lifestyle", when most of us would be delighted to successfully connect our computer to a printer.

For example, Intel's website features some hilariously misconceived promotional videos. One shows an enthusiastic woman accessing recipes wirelessly in her kitchen on a laptop. Then, while she cooks up dinner, her wireless-mad son films her, and in the evening he beams this video - wirelessly, of course - to a home-theatre system in the living room, where eager neighbours have congregated to enjoy a wireless cookery lesson. They are then given a souvenir DVD of the evening, before they presumably wander home, shell-shocked, to their own mundane dwellings. But the reality is that, as it stands, our budget wireless networks aren't up to such mind-bending applications. Mine doesn't properly cover a two-bedroom flat, and successfully connecting to the internet in my bedroom involves crouching in a corner - not something you'll see in Intel's promotional videos.

Still, I was encouraged by news of a system from Sonos that delivers music wirelessly to every room in the house, so I spent Saturday afternoon attempting to feign an urbane, sophisticated digital lifestyle using slightly more meagre methods. Using my laptop as a controller, I just about managed to harness the smooth sound of Steely Dan from another computer on the network, and beam it to a wireless hub connected to my stereo.

"It works!" I exclaimed to my girlfriend. She was unimpressed, and stood up. The music stuttered to a halt. She sat down, and it started up again. "You're clearly getting in the way of some kind of digital ray," I said. "Could you sit still?" She stood up, suggesting that I should put a CD on instead.

Of course, we'll always have exhilarating new concepts dangled in front of us long before affordable technology lets us realise them. But, this week, a conference in Hawaii is expected to agree on a new wireless standard that will enable speeds 10 times greater than those we currently enjoy. Goodness knows what ideas Intel will foist on us as a result, but hopefully it'll help me to realise my own ambition of no longer crouching down in a corner of my bedroom.

cyber@timewasting.net

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