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To plug in, or not to plug in: there is no question (02/05)

By IAN ROSS Wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) hot spots are popping up at a frenzied pace across Canada, filling conventional gathering spots with the cyber-guests of patrons.

Wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) hot spots are popping up at a frenzied pace across Canada, filling conventional gathering spots with the cyber-guests
of patrons.

In coffee houses, airport lounges, restaurants and convention centres, the convenience is taking root - no strings attached.

Cedar Meadows Resort in Timmins is no exception.

The hotel is one of the first in Northern Ontario to woo guests with wi-fi, a technology more common in major cities and high congestion areas.

Owner Richard Lafleur installed wireless access last spring to "stay ahead of everyone else" and to cater to his upscale clientele, about 80 per cent
of whom are business travellers.

"They were asking for high-speed service...but this was more practical and it's the wave of the future. If it's good enough for Pearson International Airport, it's good enough for me."

Cedar Meadows is one of three hotels, including the Travelodge and the Days Inn (formerly Senator Hotel), that offer hot-spots to mobile wireless users.

For about $2,000, a hotel or restaurant with a landline - T-1, DSL or cable modem - connection can have an antenna installed for the 802.11b
wireless network protocol and use a service provider's software tools to get customers online.

Visitors with laptops can log on to the provider's Web site with a credit card number and gain access to the Internet.

For more than a year, Cedar Meadows held the distinction of being the only wireless point north of Toronto on FatPort's coverage map and it placed Timmins on the Internet hot spot map.

Depsite an advertising campaign featuring the service, Lafleur says most Cedar Medows customers are surpised to learn they can connect to the world without connecting to a wall.

Indeed, guests can surf the Web and do work from anywhere on the 175-acre property.

He believes that kind of convenience can only benefit him in the long run.

Algonquin Business Computers owner Phil Barton is of like mind.

Wi-fi is not a major money-maker for him today, but he agrees the technology is wave of the future.

"I see it as a feather in our cap. It was something I was interested in as a coming phenomena."

As a subcontractor and installer for Vancouver's FatPort, an independent wireless provider, Barton has pitched the concept to Northern College and the Timmins & District Hospital.

"I spent about four days in (hospital) a year ago waiting for test results when I could have been working from my bedside had it been available."

Their biomedical people are examining the feasibility of installing wireless capability, he says.

"For students in residence, it's ideal. Bringing wired Internet into residence, students need phone or cable, and Internet costs are expensive. This way, they can either build it into the student life fee or rent it for a small amount every month."

Algonquin demonstrated the wireless technology to a lunchtime crowd during a NeoNet technology event at Cedar Meadows last year. Interest has been tepid, but he has no doubt "this will be growing by leaps and bounds.

"My prediction is that this is going to become part of our life faster than colour television did," says Barton.

"A year or two down the road it's going to be expected."