6 Wi-Fi Where You Want It The sky's no longer the limit for accessing the Net.
By Christine Y. Chen

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The proliferation of wireless broadband has made life easier in the past couple of years. But it's also been a nuisance. Just when you come to rely on it, there's no wireless signal anywhere around.

Now it's time to roam free (but not for free). Wireless roaming--similar to its cellphone counterpart--has begun, and over the next couple of years you'll see it take off, with wireless carriers signing agreements allowing one another's subscribers to connect anywhere. The trend is being led by companies like Boingo Wireless, which partners with carriers to develop a Boingo-branded network of "hot spots"--places where Wi-Fi is accessible.

Others are taking roaming to new heights. Germany's Lufthansa Airways, in partnership with Boeing, is planning to roll out Wi-Fi in long-haul jets in April. Passengers pay $30 for access; the companies could rake in $1.5 million for each Wi-Fi'ed plane each year. In an era when flight attendants are hawking sandwiches, don't expect any airline to turn up its nose at extra income.

As Wi-Fi becomes more widespread--the number of Wi-Fi hot spots should double to about 20,000 by the end of 2004--some companies will be rolling out the next wave. In January, chipmaking giant Intel announced that it would begin shipping chips later this year that send and receive by the 802.16 standard, called WiMax. While Intel's Centrino chip for Wi-Fi is used for distances up to 300 feet, WiMax can cover up to 30 miles. Intel execs believe this could be a solution to the "last mile" problem of delivering high-speed services into the home, which has plagued telcos for years. Intel's investment, according to Peter Kastner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, means that "the odds that WiMax gets off the ground are much, much higher than a few months ago." Get ready for access everywhere. --Christine Y. Chen