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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

St. Andrew’s Priory teachers Brandon Correa, Diane Koshi and Ann Young use their Apple iBooks to surf the Internet. Thanks to the school’s new wireless network, teachers and students can connect to the Internet almost anywhere on campus.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

St. Andrew's gets unhooked to Internet

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Isle companies join wireless Web action

There are commercial services through which subscribers can access the Web wirelessly, as long as it’s information they crave, not pretty pictures.

They get it on their Web-browser cell phones, which are used to call up special text-based Web sites configured to provide a clear display on a minuscule phone screen.

They pay a surcharge in addition to their monthly phone bill. Depending on rate plans, the phones themselves are either purchased or issued at no additional charge. For information, call the customer-service number provided.

Here are the Isle players in the world of wireless Web phones:

Nextel Online: A new arrival to Net phones, Nextel has designed its service for its target clientele of business users. The browser gives quick access to information at finance, news and mobile-office sites, as well as shopping, leisure and other sites. A free 30-day trial is offered; the standard $10 add-on charge covers unlimited Web access: 840-4800.

Verizon Mobile Web: Like other browser phones, Verizon’s can be set up to send e-mail and receive alerts you’ve programmed at the service’s site and other Web sites. News, sports, shopping and finance are among the site categories. The charge: $6.95. Minutes you spend surfing come from your monthly phone air-time allotment: 1-800-256-4646.

Sprint PCS Wireless Web: Sprint offers a similar range of consumer and business services and Web alerts, including a selection of games that can really get you in trouble if you’re the easily addicted type. Subscribers with plans of $29.99 or more can use their minutes on the Wireless Web service for an additional $10. 1-800-480-4727.

AT&T PocketNet: On the downside, the AT&T PocketNet browser takes a little longer to log you in than the others, because each phone is assigned a fixed Internet Protocol (IP) address. But it has a Mitsubishi phone with a screen that’s roomy by cell-phone standards. No extra fee for unlimited basic Web service, but e-mail capability costs $6.99 a month. 537-2021.

What people want is to be connected and unconnected, at the same time.

That’s the thinking, anyway, behind the move toward wireless Internet services. The companies investing in this technology are banking on people wanting to stay hooked to the Net without being plugged to a wall socket of any kind.

Ron Weaver, high school librarian at St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls, is quickly becoming addicted after trying out the school’s new wireless network, so much so that he has ordered his own equipment so he can feed the habit at home.

"This is the first laptop I’ve ever used," he said, referring to the iBook Macintosh computers that the school has provided faculty members and will issue to students next fall. "And now I’ve fallen in love with the silly things.

"And, because of the wireless thing, wherever I am in the school, I can function."

St. Andrew’s has connected its campus computer network to a series of base stations, small transmitters that send out signals to receiving antennas imbedded in the iBooks. The laptops will be connected to the network (and to the Internet or any other service available by school computers) as long as they’re in signal range.

Weaver is waiting eagerly for his own equipment to arrive so that he can get on the Net easily with both his iBook and iMac computers at home.

"The beauty of it is the space thing," he said. "I don’t have to move the iMac out of the way so I can use the laptop and be comfortable."

The six base stations in place now each cover a 300-foot area in all directions, enough to network most of the campus, said Ted Landgraf, the school’s technology coordinator. By fall, when the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders get the computers, the addition of another four or more stations should fill any "dead" spots so the connection won’t be lost, he said. Each station costs $300, with an additional cost of $100 per antenna "card" installed in the laptops.

"Right now, if you move out of range of one (base station), sometimes it picks up the new one automatically, sometimes it doesn’t," Landgraf said.

The impetus for the project was to avoid a huge tangle of wires in classrooms, which typically contain a dozen computers each, he added.

In addition to the school’s Internet service, there is information stored in the computer network - collections of magazine articles used for research, for example - that students also will be able to reach wirelessly, Weaver said.

The commercial lure in the wireless world, of course, is access to the Internet. To date, the only wireless Internet service offered consumers is an add-on to a digital cellular phone subscription. "Web-enabled" cell phones pull down data from Web sites and display it - mostly in text form - on the small phone.

But there’s a lot of interest in wireless Web service that powers a full computer display. Some companies, like Pacific Direct Connect, make their money by creating wireless networks and Internet connections for businesses; one of its downtown clients has its wireless signal beamed in from Pacific Direct Connect, right across the street. Then employees can connect to the Net on desktop or laptop computers anywhere in the office.

This base station sends signals to receiving antennas in the laptops.
The general public might be willing to pay for this kind of convenience; that’s the hope, at least of Internet Concept Solutions, a Hono-lulu company that is setting up a high-speed wireless Internet service.

The service, called HI.NET WOW (for without wires), was launched in November with an initial service area that would include downtown and the University of Hawai‘i district. But the enterprise stalled immediately because the managers of a building that was to house a key transmitter rescinded their permission, said Kalani Miller, a company spokesman.

Negotiations for replacement sites are continuing, he said, and company officials hope to have the service running in about two months.

"We’re still taking orders and we’ve found a building close by," Miller said. He added that additional deals for transmitters may extend service to Salt Lake, Waikele, Kalihi, Kaimuki and other communities this year, with a goal of installing 50 to 100 transmitters within 18 months.

By that time, the girls of St. Andrew’s Priory will be wireless wizards. And this is how it should be, said Caroline Oda, head of the school.

"I think we’re going to have to use computers with the same facility as we use phones or drive cars," Oda said. "It’ll be a tool, but learning will take place on top of it."

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