The future of the PC market hangs on that question.
Intel last week formally unleashed its onslaught on the wireless market withan energy-efficient processor for Wi-Fi (802.11 wireless) notebooks. Intel will also sell it in a three-chip bundle of parts called Centrino.
These Pentium-M notebooks will run for around five hours to six hours on a single battery charge, and up to 11 hours with an auxiliary battery--the sort of performance needed to make wireless access a habit.
Intel is also priming
Advocates say Wi-Fi will be a hit because it lets people be in two places at once. Sales representatives stuck on a Car and Driver.or at the airport can continue to work rather than thumb through three-week-old copies of
"From a corporate perspective, wireless improves productivity. You don't have to be pulled out of meetings to answer a quick question," said Robert Enochs, product manger for the T-Series line of ThinkPads at IBM.
Theand regulatory hassles involved in laying down communication pipes also vanish, making it easier for computing access to proliferate.
"Wi-Fi is especially significant to us...because it removes the obstacles in-between," noted Andy Grove, Intel's chairman. "The wires in-between do not follow Moore's Law. In fact, they do not follow any law but those promulgated by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission)."
Ultimately, time, space and distance could be compressed, prompting the sort of societal changes brought forth by the car, television and the Internet. You'll be able to stay in touch with everyone at all times. Then again, you won't be paying attention to them nearly as well as you once did, because you'll be reading your e-mail instead. Travel will become easier, but also less exotic.
The delivery of full-length movies and music through broadband pipes to the home will become a reality. You might not need to put clothes on for days.
Skeptics, however, caution that wireless boosters may be sniffing the fumes of unrealizable expectations.
Skeptics note that cell phones, from a behavioral standpoint, are different than Wi-Fi notebooks. Cell phones need to be left on because people call up with urgent messages. E-mail and instant messaging aren't what you use when you want to talk to someone straight away: Part of the appeal is that you can respond at your leisure.
As a result, Wi-Fi hot-spot use may not, in the long run, get a constant grind of traffic. "How many hot spots do you think you will use?" said Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius. "Are you going to sit there at your kid's softball game answering e-mail?"
Cell phones and personal e-mail devices, such as the, from Danger, will provide people with remote Internet and e-mail access. If phones become a commonly used medium for data traffic, many people may not bother to spend the extra dollars to get a wireless account for the notebook.
Finally, most of us don't really need to stay in the loop at all times. The world will go on, even if you don't read the "SF Only: Toy Story 2 on Ice Tickets Still Available" e-mail the moment it comes out.
Then again, it's hard to underestimate the desire for mobility. Cell phone sales have far exceeded any earlier expectations. Users, not corporate marketing departments, are pushing Wi-Fi--a sign of potentially strong growth.
Some carriers, particularly in China, are looking at ways to sell Wi-Fi phones once the network gets built out. Wi-Fi adoption in notebooks, therefore, could pave the way to free phone calls.
There's something in the water. The question now is: How big will it be?