The Year of Living Wirelessly

Wi-Fi can get its mojo working just about anywhere

Mike Smart loves his Boston Red Sox. And even though he lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., he still follows the team whenever he can. Take Apr. 5. He hunkered down at the Java Man coffee shop to catch up on business and watch the game. But Smart wasn't viewing the contest on TV. The game was broadcast over the Web to the Internet connection at his office, which beamed it -- with full motion video and sound -- across the street to the café. A small wireless antenna in his laptop captured the signal. The Sox lost 2-1. But that didn't dampen Smart's passion for wireless. "Now I can have my heart broken anyplace, anytime," he says.

In just a year, Smart has become a wireless acolyte. His company, SOS Network Inc., helps clients put together sales and marketing plans. It's a small shop with five employees. A year ago, SOS hooked up a wireless transmitter and receiver to the company's high-speed Internet connection and equipped the laptops for Wi-Fi. Total cost: $300.

The next step was inspired: The company rigged up a wireless signal booster that extends the range of the access point from 150 feet to 300 feet. All of a sudden, Smart could take his client meetings out of the cramped office to the Java Man. "It makes the coffee shop a virtual extension of our office," he says.

Smart's just as gung-ho about wireless on the road. He traveled to the Macworld trade show in San Francisco in January to help a client launch its product line. But every morning, before running into the Moscone Center for the show, Smart stopped at Starbucks Corp. (SBUX ), booted up his laptop, and tapped into its wireless connection to check his e-mail. "I was able to keep up with my other clients," he says.

Smart has even cut the wire at home. Sure, he can sit in the backyard and surf the Web. But what he loves best is attaching a tiny camera to the laptop for wireless videoconferences with his four-month-old daughter and her grandparents. "I can just move the laptop around the house with her," Smart says. Showing off a newborn to the grandparents may seem mundane. But when Smart does it, he's living on the wireless edge.

By Jay Greene in Seattle

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