No strings attached

Although I’ve come to see the guy sitting next to me on the chairlift who’s talking to head office on his cell phone as a pretentious, self-important yuppie – an archetype of a modern day class struggle, and a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with the world today – I have to admit that I like the way he does business. If I could do my job in between runs, I’d probably be doing the same thing.

It’s the future, like it or not, and the future is wireless.

If you’re in range of a microwave tower, you can call anywhere in the world using a cell phone. The same phones can send and receive your e-mail and download information from the Web, as can many next generation personal data assistants and laptop computers. Heck, you can even check the latest stock tickers and sports scores on your wristwatch.

You can turn your car into a home office, complete with fax machines and real time video conferencing. OnStar systems can allow hands-free phone services, and an onboard computer system can work with global positioning systems and Internet services to map your route from appointment to appointment.

The technology is so good and so fast that you can put in a full day at work while sitting on a park bench somewhere or lounging by the pool, the gold standards of the whole wireless push as advertised by wireless companies. The only limit, really, is your imagination.

New technologies are also being tested, including pay wands that allow you to charge purchases to your credit card at participating vendors simply by waving a keychain device in front of a special terminal.

While most computer and Internet users are still anchored to their wall jacks, local area network (LAN) wireless technology is starting to take hold at the office and in private homes as the price goes down and people are realizing the advantages of no strings attached.

Rather than explain the different types of wireless services and technologies available – and there are a lot of them – visit this site for an up-to-date overview on the wireless scene, from cell technology to satellite technology, to the latest in wireless Internet networks, the latter of which are popping up in cities around North America.

In a few years, you’ll be able to pull out a laptop in almost any urban area, click on your Internet browser icon, and access the Web at high data transfer speeds – some of the systems currently being tested can transfer information at the same rate as cable or DSL services under ideal conditions.

If you want to go wireless and have no idea what products are available, or how well they will work in your area – if they will even work at all – this site is a good place to find out who the producers, retailers and service providers are.

Check out the Buyer’s Guide and the New Products section to see what the latest technology looks like. You should also visit the Innovations of the Year section to get an idea of what’s possible these days.

Although the jury is still out on this new technology, Bluetooth is gaining acceptance as a new benchmark for interconnectivity. Not only can Bluetooth chips, with built in transmitters/receivers, hook mobile devices to the Internet through wireless network hubs, they also allow different devices to speak to each other more easily without wires – i.e. your PDA can talk to your laptop, your phone can talk to your PDA, your laptop can talk to your desktop, and your computer can talk to its peripherals, such as printers, scanners, cameras, you name it.

Although manufacturers have been slow to introduce this technology, mainly because of the limited number of technologies it will work with at this point, it’s starting to snowball.

Governments around the world have either introduced or are considering legislation that would ban the use of cell phones while driving, believing them to be a major cause of accidents. The OnStar system is different, allowing hands free activation and dialing.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re in an accident and the airbag deploys, your OnStar module will contact the Onstar headquarters and tell them where you are. The same location system can be used to call emergency vehicles, or track your vehicle if it’s stolen.

It will unlock your doors remotely, run a diagnostic of your engine, help you book travel arrangements, call for roadside assistance, provide voice-activated access to Web-based information, forward medical history to emergency services personnel, and guide you to any destination with detailed directions.

A lot of new cars already come with OnStar installed, and systems can be retrofitted into almost any vehicle. Yearly service rates depend on what service package you subscribe to.

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