March 3, 2003 9:00 PM PST

West Coast cities tops in wireless

Wireless networking technology is more of a West Coast thing in the United States, according to a survey released by chipmaker Intel.

Intel's "Most Unwired Cities" survey, conducted by Bert Sperling, president of Sperling's BestPlaces, ranks the top 100 most unwired cities, with six of the top 10 spots belonging to West Coast metropolitan areas. The Portland, Ore.-Vancouver, Wash. area was the most unwired area, according to the survey. There are more than 3,700 hot spots in the United States spread out in cafes, airports, public parks and hotels. Hot spots are places where wireless Web access is available to the public.

The survey was conducted to demonstrate that Wi-Fi technology and hot spots are not confined to labs or businesses, Sperling said. Wi-Fi refers to wireless networking technology based on the 802.11b, 802.11a and, by midyear, the 802.11g standards.

"Some cities have a lot of them now," Sperling said. "Strong communities are bringing the technology to the people, and it demonstrates that Wi-Fi is easy enough to implement that grassroots efforts can go ahead to bring the power and freedom to the community."

The survey is based on the number of each city's public and commercially available hot spots, such as those found in hotels, airports and Starbucks, as well as cell phone coverage and Internet penetration, Sperling said. The data was based on a 100-point scale and was calculated per capita, so it is normalized for population, to determine how many people are sharing hot spots in a given region.

Sperling added that being wired used to mean being connected to the Internet, but that it's rapidly changing. He doesn't expect this survey to even be conducted five years from now because all cities would be unwired, he said.

Some of the more unexpected locations that were unwired included a barbershop in Long Island, N.Y., a chowder house in Seattle, a pub in Lake Tahoe and a pool hall in Maui, Hawaii. Intel has been active in forming partnerships with hotel chains and airports to make Wi-Fi technology more widely available. More are coming, said Sean Maloney, general manager of the Intel Communication Group.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker is adding built-in Wi-Fi capability to its next generation of mobile processors to better differentiate them from competing products.

Portland is high on the list because of generic Wi-Fi demand and a movement by the city to push for free Wi-Fi hot spots, said Maloney, who noted that there is a West Coast tilt toward Wi-Fi.

"You're down to No. 6 before you start getting anything on the East Coast," he said.

The top 10 metropolitan areas included Portland; the San Francisco Bay Area; Austin, Texas; Seattle; Orange County, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Denver; Ventura, Calif.; and Boston. The complete list of Intel's "Most Unwired Cities" is available on Intel's Web site.

Despite hot spots being free, paid services are likely to take over, Maloney said. After all, service to the hot spot hosts isn't free: They have to pay monthly fees for a wired Internet connection that the Wi-Fi base station connects to.

"It looks like a preponderance of the hot spots will be paid," he said. "There are a lot of people that are going to offer paid service."

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Oh how times have changed since 2003. Forbes is now reporting that Raleigh, NC is now the most wired city in the US, toping San Fran, Seattle and San Jose. They also report that it is no surprise that there is a direct correlation with higher income population and broadband use. Also worth noting is that Raleigh, NC has a much higher than average graduation rate http://www.areavibes.com/raleigh-nc/education/.
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