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Barry MacQuarrie
How Ubiquitous Is Your Internet?

Find out.

August 6, 2009
by Barry MacQuarrie, CPA

We have been hearing about the “Ubiquitous Internet” for a few years now. The promise is that we will be able to access the Internet from anywhere. On the surface, this seems like a very cool idea. More and more of our electronic devices come with a built-in Wi-Fi antenna and have capabilities that only work when connected to the Internet. For example, my iPod (which is designed to play music) can be used to browse the Web once it is connected to a Wi-Fi connection. In addition, anywhere access will allow us to get more work done as we will be able to connect to the office from just about anywhere.

The idea of a ubiquitous Internet has many promises, but there just might be a few dangers in our “always on, always connected” world.

Ubiquitous — A Growing Trend

Do you remember when your office was first connected to the Internet? For most of us, our first experience with the Internet was at work. The second stop on the Ubiquitous Express was our homes. Do you remember CompuServe or AOL? They were among the first vendors to connect our homes to the Internet using dial-up connections. These vendors have, for the most part, been replaced by a vendor that has brought us “high-speed” connectivity using a cable or fiber connection.

The Ubiquitous Express continued as it moved past the office and our homes to places where we humans tend to gather. The first stop was coffee shops and restaurants. Some places offer free Wi-Fi while others offer subscription-based hotspots. The idea is to get you in to spend money on their coffee or food while you enjoyed Internet connectivity. From here, the Express has moved into hotels and motels. The service can be found in the format of wired or wireless access. Each hotel chain has put their spin on Internet connectivity. Some charge for the service and others include it for free. Some offer wireless access throughout the hotel, while others offer a combination of wired and wireless access.

 The cellular vendors have also hopped aboard the Ubiquitous Express by offering “everywhere” access using their cellular modems. With this service, you use an internal or external (USB) modem to connect your personal computer (PC) to the Internet from anywhere using the cellular network. The service is still relatively expensive, but it can be beneficial if you travel frequently and stay in hotels that charge for Internet access.

Finally, it seems like the Ubiquitous Express is ready to follow us on our business trips and vacations. Several of the major airlines are now offering Wi-Fi access during their flights. It is easy to see how this service will appeal to the person who wants to send and receive e-mail while flying. Like anything new, the airlines are charging top dollar for the service when compared to the fee you pay for your home Internet service. In addition, cruise ships are now offering Internet connectivity. I recently spent time on a cruise ship and found that they offered wireless Internet access in our stateroom, but the only catch was that the service cost $33 per hour!

Will We Ever See the Ubiquitous Internet?

While I completely understand and often rely upon these “always on and always connected” services, I question whether we really need a ubiquitous Internet. During the cruise, I was truly off the grid for several days. We didn’t spend much time in our stateroom and did not have any need for Internet access. I did not receive any phone calls or e-mail while at sea, as my BlackBerry was unable to connect. Instead of concentrating on all of the electronics in my life, I chose to spend time with my family. We spent time talking, hanging out at the pool, climbing a rock wall and playing shuffleboard! I was able to truly enjoy time with them without the interruptions that come with being connected to the Internet.

I don’t expect to see a ubiquitous Internet in my lifetime. There are some places that will be too expensive to connect. It is my opinion that there are just some places in this world that we don’t need access. Have you ever been to the Badlands or seen the Grand Canyon? Is it such a bad thing that you can’t get a Wi-Fi connection in the middle of the Badlands? The Internet has nothing to offer that compares with the beauty of either of these places.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that a ubiquitous Internet can make life easier and more convenient for all of us, but there are downsides to always being connected. At work, our productivity goes down as we are constantly interrupted by the beeping and chirping of all the electronic devices we carry around. At home, our “always on and always connected” world may distract us from those people and things that are really important!

I hope you can take some time this summer to enjoy all of the things that aren’t yet connected! You may even find it refreshing to leave the BlackBerry at home and take a walk on the beach with your family and your dog!

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Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, is the Director of Technology at KAF Financial Group. MacQuarrie has extensive experience working with CPA firm technologies and expertise in workflow, process improvement, disaster recovery planning, security and paperless office technologies.