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Where are all the wires?

During a visit to the computer store to get his son outfitted for college, the Game Master gets schooled in the ways of Wi-Fi.

Prior to my son heading off to college recently, we visited the local Gateway store, where we hoped to select the laptop he “needed” for school. While I had a bare-bones $799 model in mind, he had other ideas. Being the antique that I am, one of my concerns was whether we ought to buy an external floppy drive. My son rolled his eyes and concerned himself with the more expensive, cutting-edge options–like the wireless PC card assortment. Apparently he had checked, and Cornell University has Wi-Fi “hot spots” all over campus. These will enable him, he said, looking at me in dead seriousness, to make better use of his studying/work time. After all, he’ll be able to do research on the Web practically anywhere he goes, cable-free.

C’monnnnnnnn! This is the Game Master he’s talking to. You can’t kid a kidder! Whereas hooking up a LAN for gaming used to be one pain in the tush, the hottest thing will soon be Wi-Fi hot spots for unlimited, unbridled, unrestricted multiplayer gaming…in parks, in Starbucks, in airline terminals…in moving trains!

Until recently, Wi-Fi–or wireless fidelity–was restricted to small venues. That’s because, for a few hundred dollars, anyone can start a short-range wireless LAN that turns a coffee shop or small office into an Internet free-for-all. Larger venues, like train stations and hotels, are much more expensive to cover.

But that hasn’t stopped a huge hotel chain like Marriott, which sees big business in becoming an early adopter. Marriott announced it will offer Wi-Fi service in lobbies, meeting rooms, and other public spaces in 400 of its hotels to complement its current in-room high-speed access.

Likewise, across the pond, the UK’s Virgin Trains has in its sights the holy grail of Wi-Fi: access on a moving train. “Rail passengers will shortly be able to connect to the service via a wireless-enabled laptop throughout their journey,” said a spokesperson. Gee, can planes be far behind?

Meanwhile, if you’d like the Web with those fries, McDonald’s now offers all-beef patties, special sauce…and Wi-Fi. It recently equipped 60 New York-area restaurants with hotspots in an effort to combat sluggish sales, hoping to lure hungry Web surfers with what a spokesman described as “a really neat technology.”

And talk about real creativity–we just spoke to a travel agent who took a group of war gamers on a bus tour of the battlefields of Europe. He equipped the bus with a Wi-Fi LAN that enabled the gamers to continue their virtual troop movements while peering out the windows at where the real thing took place. In fact, he’s planning a second Wi-Fi excursion for the spring of 2005 and would love to hear from interested gamers. Read all about it online or contact Bill Owen at [email protected]

There’s no doubt about it. Wi-Fi can easily become the Next Big Thing for businesses seeking to offer a value add that differentiates themselves from the competition. And it’s likely to be the shot in the arm that the PC gaming industry needs in its current losing battle against the console makers. I don’t know about you, but the idea of multiplayer gaming practically anywhere, anytime, unfettered by cables and hookups, makes this Game Master’s mouth water. Just the way Wi-Fi gets my son all tingly at the prospect of increasing his access time to online encyclopedias. Yeah, right.

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