Paris plans to offer wireless Net access

PARIS: Next time you’re in the French capital, keep an eye out for the corporate executive in his beloved cafe, smoke curling from his cigarette, steam wafting from his espresso. And his laptop computer connected to corporate headquarters. 

The perfect marriage: cafe society and wireless Internet. 

Paris could soon be among the first cities to offer comprehensive, wireless Internet access, allowing e-mailing and web surfing from the Left Bank to La Defence. 

A woman uses her cellular phone in front of a stand promoting WiFi at a Paris tran station. Paris may soon be the first in the world to offer wireless Internet access. - APpic

Two technology firms and the agency that runs Paris’ Metro have launched a test run that, if successful, could lead to Paris becoming one massive “hot spot.” 

In the trial, a dozen antennas were erected last month outside Metro stations lining a major north-south bus route, allowing anyone nearby to go online with a computer equipped to receive the signals. 

Most newly manufactured laptop computers come equipped with built-in WiFi, or wireless fidelity. The standard allows users to log on to the Internet from within 90m or so of a hot spot, an antenna-equipped access point. Older laptops can be upgraded for less than 87 euros (US$100). 

In a technology blitz some have compared to the rise of the Internet, tens of thousands of hot spots have been established around the world – in airports, cafes, McDonald’s outlets, hotels, university campuses and other locations. 

Trains and planes are also being equipped. 

On Tuesday, Verizon Corp. announced a plan to pepper New York City with wireless access points for its Internet subscribers, using the wiring from its pay phone network. 

Such urban access would by no means be seamless, given current technological limitations. Nevertheless, a single, continuous network is the eventual goal of the Paris project. 

Paris may seem an odd entrant into the race to extend WiFi – “weefee”, as it is pronounced in French – as it lags behind US and many other European cities in wireless Internet adoption. 

That certainly does not dim its purveyors’ enthusiasm. 

“More than 1,000 people have subscribed, the numbers are growing extremely fast, people are definitely excited,” said Jean-Paul Figer, chief technology officer at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, a partner in the project. 

He admits that one obstacle to a seamless network is the current limited range of WiFi antennas. – AP  

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