December 2002 - January 2003
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Noe Valley Goes Wireless
By Elizabeth Morse
Many Noe Valley residents and businesses depend on the Internet for their daily work. Or they use it to send e-mail, do medical research, scan apartment listings, or check movie schedules. Most have DSL or other high-speed Internet connections, but some are starting to discover the world of "Wi-Fi."
Wi-Fi stands for "wireless fidelity," and as you might have guessed, Wi-Fi allows you lose all those cumbersome wires. Wi-Fi also refers to 802.11b, a type of short-range wireless technology that lets you beam data to your computer via radio waves.
For about $200, people can set up their own Wi-Fi network, featuring a special antenna that "broadcasts" about 300 feet. Over the past few years, these Wi-Fi "hot spots" have been popping up in cafes, homes, and businesses around Noe Valley. Currently, www.wi-finder.com lists nine in the 94114 and 94131 zip codes.
Author Zack Lynch is one of several Noe Valley residents who have set up Wi-Fi networks in their homes. Wi-Fi lets him take his laptop outside the confines of his office and enjoy the change of scenery. "Because I went wireless, I can continue using the Internet to fact-check my book from any location in the house, including my backyard," he says. Similarly, Christian Wolff, a local digital video programmer, installed a home Wi-Fi network and uses it to tap into the Internet while sitting at his nearby laundromat.
Wolff and Lynch--and anyone else with a Wi-Fi-enabled computer--can also stroll over to Café XO at 30th and Church streets. Adam Bousiakis, XO's owner, installed his wireless network last February and has seen a steady stream of laptop-toting customers ever since.
"We have the wireless network and Internet access for the convenience of people, and also because there was nothing [for public Internet access] on this side of Noe Valley," Bousiakis says.
Customers can use XO's air waves to connect to the Internet while sipping their coffee at an outside table. (The café also has a couple of Internet terminals inside, for those who want to connect the "wired" way or who don't have laptops.)
Other coffeehouses, such as Starbucks on 24th Street, offer wireless Internet for a fee. Starbucks' wireless network is operated by a company called T-Mobile and costs $2.99 per 15 minutes. Why pay? Most of the paid services offer easy-to-use software and customer service, so it doesn't require too much computer savvy in order to wirelessly connect.
Even with the connection fee, Starbucks has plenty of users and has received good feedback on its service, the staff says. In surrounding neighborhoods, the Morning Due Café (on 17th Street), Dolores Park Café (Dolores and 18th), and Jumpin' Java Café (on Noe Street) also offer wireless Internet access.
Keep in mind that Wi-Fi technology is not yet built in to all laptops and requires a little tinkering to install. (For more information, try the Wi-Fi Alliance at www.weca.net.) Regardless, Noe Valley residents are already enjoying the wireless Internet and the freedom it brings.
Twenty-ninth Street resident Elizabeth Morse is a freelance web-site developer and software consultant who has enjoyed the benefits of a home wireless network for about a year.