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Internet on the go: Wi-Fi gets Web access into the streets

Easing into a computer-centered work day can actually be a relaxing experience. At least, that is what Whidbey Telephone Company is betting on.

For more than a month, the company's Internet subsidiary, WhidbeyNET, has been beta testing its new "Wi-Fi" or Wireless Fidelity Internet system at several locations around South Whidbey, including the new Billy's Bakery in Freeland. The system allows computer users who have wi-fi cards installed in their machines to get onto the Internet without connecting to a phone line.

At Billy's Bakery, laptop computer users need only sit down near the business' fireplace, turn on their Wi-Fi-equipped machines and log on to the Internet.

At the Clinton ferry dock, ferry passengers waiting in line can also get an Internet fix, though not as easily, according to WhidbeyNET executive George Henny. He said the "tin can" effect of sitting in a car tends to block the narrow-band radio waves the system uses to broadcast Internet connections to computer users.

But aside from that glitch, he said, the testing is showing Wi-Fi to be even better than the company's high-speed DSL Internet connections. Using Wi-Fi is nothing like trying to make a slow Internet connection through a cellular phone and a computer modem, previously the only way to get wireless access in public places. Henny said the Wi-Fi setups at the bakery and the ferry dock deliver 1.5 megabytes of information per minute, versus the 750 kilobytes possible on standard DSL connections. At present, Wi-Fi offers about the fastest connection available on South Whidbey.

Admitting that WhidbeyNET is using a high-powered feed for the wi-fi test systems and is showing off a bit, Henny said the trial run is showing the wireless possibilities of South Whidbey's computerized future.

"The folks I've talked with have said it's really fast," he said.

Wi-Fi hubs, like those at the ferry dock and Billy's Bakery, are called "Hot Spots" and offer free Internet connections to anyone with the right equipment. Billy's owner, Mark Myers, said he's had a few customers -- those with the right equipment, WhidbeyNET accounts and the knowledge that the bakery and cafe is a Hot Spot -- use the service. It works well enough, Myers said, that he will make it a permanent fixture.

"I think this is going to be a nice thing," he said.

In a press release put out by the company this week, Julia Henny Demartini stated that Wi-Fi can be installed more conveniently and for more computer users in public places.

"There are more and more people who want high-speed internet access at home, at work and at other locations that are convenient for them," she said.

According to WhidbeyNET, the Clinton ferry dock was the most requested location for a Wi-Fi Hot Spot. The company said Wi-Fi customers using an extended range wireless card and accessory antenna combination will be able to get high-speed Internet access as far away from the holding dock as the "60 minute wait" sign once a permanent installation is put in place.

WhidbeyNET has not yet announced pricing for Wi-Fi service, nor when it will begin offering the service.

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