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Vonage Turns Wi-Fi Into A Must Have

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Turning Wi-Fi Into A Must-Have

January 11, 2005

By Kharif

As new applications and devices proliferate, wireless broadband will become a necessity for businesses and ordinary folks alike.

Not so long ago, nurses at the surgical unit of Rhode Island Hospital ran marathons on their daily shifts. If one of them needed help to administer a treatment, he or she would have to leave a patient's bedside and trek through the corridors to look for a colleague who could lend a hand.

Three months ago the hospital, which is part of medical group Lifespan, provided surgical-unit nurses with special wireless phones from a Cupertino (Calif.) startup called Vocera. The devices allow them to call fellow staffers via an in-building Wi-Fi network, covering more than 1 million square feet. Now a nurse can simply punch in another nurse's phone number from the patient's bedside, and help is on its way. As a result, their feet -– and nerves -- get less of a workout.

While Wi-Fi, a wireless broadband technology that emerged in the past several years, has made a world of difference for Lifespan nurses, by the end of 2005 Rhode Island Hospital's basic system will seem as advanced as an eight-track stereo.

NO MORE NOVELTY. In March, Lifespan will begin using its Wi-Fi network for transmitting information such as glucose levels to doctors in real time, just as the patient's gurney is wheeled through the halls. The hospital will likewise track the location of patients and medical devices, says Dave Hemendinger, LifeSpan's chief technology officer. It'll be a more efficient, cheaper, and accurate way to monitor medical information.

No doubt about it, this will be the year Wi-Fi goes from a novelty to a standard feature in many types of devices. It's not a stretch to say this hot wireless technology will become a must-have for service companies, from big restaurants to garbage collectors.

There are plenty of reasons why. Thanks to improvements in technology, Wi-Fi is faster and finally reasonably secure from hackers. It's also more affordable: Prices on Wi-Fi chips for laptops have fallen 50% in the past two years, estimates Craig Mathias, founder of Ashland (Mass.) wireless consultancy Farpoint Group.

A TOOL FOR EVERYONE. What's more, the biggest bugaboo of Wi-Fi devices -- excessive power consumption –- should be resolved this year, according to industry insiders. As a result, public Wi-Fi hotspots, already exceeding 100,000 in the U.S., will continue to multiply rapidly. And so will new business and consumer applications and devices, ranging from Wi-Fi cell phones to medical equipment.

Consumer-electronics makers are putting Wi-Fi into cameras, portable music players, and TVs. As the number of such devices reaches critical mass, consumers and businesspeople will begin using new applications, such as moving music files from portable MP3 players to TVs or creating interactive photo slide shows.

Sure, the tech-savvy can do many of those things today. But 2005 will be the year ordinary folks get the tools to do it. The world's largest chipmaker, Intel (INTC ) is working with partners on easier-to-use Wi-Fi and is planning a huge marketing blitz around Wi-Fi-enabled digital-home gadgets later this year.

WILD RIDE. By mid-2005 all major cell-phone makers are expected to roll out Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Samsung, for one, plans to release several models, says Peter Skarzynski, senior vice-president of Samsung Telecommunications America in Richardson, Tex. Responding to customer demand, wireless service providers like Sprint PCS (FON ) and Cingular (SBC , BLS ) are already testing prototypes from multiple suppliers.

Some telecoms are likely to test Wi-Fi products from nontraditional cell-phone makers. While networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO ) is mum on future product announcements, it already makes Wi-Fi phones. Essentially, they're high-tech cordless phones for homes and offices that use the Internet to make connections.

The next step is to attach Wi-Fi technology to a phone that can work on cellular networks. "We have all the pieces [of the technology] already," says Ann Sun, a senior manager for wireless at Cisco.

Clearly, Wi-Fi's wild ride is just beginning. "Wi-Fi enables lots of people to produce crazy applications," says Louis Mamakos, chief technology officer at service provider Vonage, which plans to offer phones based on the technology this quarter. Having graduated from buzzword status, In 2005 look for Wi-Fi to become part of everyday life.

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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