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The white board goes wireless

The tried-and-true but decidedly low-tech office presentation device is going wireless--another use for the emerging Wi-Fi networking technology.

An office regular--the white board--is going wireless, another use for the emerging Wi-Fi networking technology, which needs to pick up steam if it's to meet analysts' heady expectations.

Several companies have been souping up the tried-and-true but decidedly low-tech white board, taking it from a waxy writing surface for felt-tipped pens to a giant plasma touch screen linked to a PC and a projector.

The "smart" white board can display anything running on the PC, whether it?s a video or a PowerPoint presentation. Electronic "pens" have taken the place of the traditional felt-tipped variety, allowing users to write notes "on" the screen or to highlight displayed items. The newfangled boards don't come cheap, though, running anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000.

Regardless of price, all models have until now required a cable to link the projector, screen and computer.

On Friday, though, Smart Technologies began selling a $400 device that uses the Wi-Fi wireless networking technology to connect the three elements. Wi-Fi makes the systems easier to install, said Smart Technologies' Jennifer Meads.

The company is one of several that's begun giving Wi-Fi more things to do.

Since it burst on the computing scene two years ago, wireless networking based on Wi-Fi has primarily been used to link various consumer-electronics devices, typically laptop and notebook computers, printers and the like. Wi-Fi networks send data from one machine to another, whether it's a digital television signal being beamed to an upstairs bedroom or data for a Web-surfing session being channeled to a room other than the one in which the jack for the digital subscriber line sits.

But industry insiders have said more devices need to be added to the mix, creating wider uses for Wi-Fi, if the technology is to meet analysts' soaring expectations. In-Stat/MDR researchers have said that by 2005, more than 55 million Wi-Fi-based wireless networks will be in homes and offices.

Smart Technologies isn't the only company developing new uses. IBM and Boeing have helped create "droppable access points" for police and emergency officials. Wi-Fi access points, the radios that create the zones in which the network can operate, are usually fixed in one location. Droppable access points can be moved from one place to the next.

Some airports in Canada, too, have been using Wi-Fi networks to find people who are about to miss their flights--the airports then process their tickets and give them seat assignments on the spur of the moment. And laptop maker Toshiba has developed a way for someone on a Wi-Fi network to find a nearby printer and print his or her document, even if the printer is in a coffee shop down the street.

But just how committed Smart Technologies is to Wi-Fi remains to be seen. The company could, for example, embed the technology into all its products. But it hasn't chosen to do so yet, Meads said.

"Right now, this is just an add-on," she said.

Two other companies, Polyvision and Mimio, make high-tech white boards. But they haven't added any wireless features to their products, company representatives said.