Home / Opinions / Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi, wherefore art thou Wi-Fi?

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Wi-Fi is built into every laptop computer you can buy these days. Indeed, it wouldn’t be stretching a point to say that anyone issuing a laptop without it would be laughed out of retail. But that’s not the same for handhelds. Wi-Fi is not built in to the Treo 650 from palmOne, and it’s not in the new Mobile Messenger from Hewlett Packard, both flagship PDAs with the ability to run third party software, with built-in keyboards and SIM support so you don’t need to carry a phone to make voice calls.

At a recent meeting during which I got my hands on HP’s Mobile Messenger for the first time, I asked the ‘where’s Wi-Fi’ question and was told that if users wanted Wi-Fi there was nothing to stop them adding it. Well, yes, I can’t deny this is true. The device has two slots for external media. One of these is a MiniSD slot, the other SD - you can add your Wi-Fi using the latter.

But this is far from being a pretty solution. First off you’ll need to invest in a card. Scouting around on the Web I found, at www.blueunplugged.com, Socket’s version at £79.95 and SanDisk’s at £69.89. The latter is reportedly discontinued, but you could probably find one if you shop around, and it also offers 256MB of extra storage memory which could come in handy, though frankly the price of SD memory is so low these days that 256MB looks a bit paltry.

Anyway, choose either of these options and you hit my second reason for disliking adding Wi-Fi in this way – its sheer inelegance and impracticality. These cards are long, and result in a pretty large protrusion coming out of your handheld. Not only does this spoil the neat design of anything you add it to, (it’ll look really naff when you pull your new toy out for a play – er, I mean, to check your schedule) in a meeting or on the train), it is unergonomic to the point of stupidity. I wouldn’t leave one of these cards in a device long term because, rattling around in a bag or pocket, it is likely to get clipped, yanked, nudged, and generally mangled in a way that’s likely to do neither it or the SDIO contacts in my device any good at all.

Wi-Fi’s invisibility in the Mobile Messenger is particularly galling to me because this device seems in every other respect to tick the right boxes. So why is it notably absent?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious when you think about it, and it is the same as that for the Treo 650. I refuse to believe the key issue is one of technology. I think the stumbling block is the operators. Operators aren’t happy about Wi-Fi being present in any device that can also handle a SIM card. There is just one reason for this - VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

To spell it out, the fear is that you’ll abandon operators and use your Wi-Fi connection to make phone calls over the Internet, at no extra cost to yourself, rather than use the operator’s facilities. With Wi-Fi networking becoming more and more widespread and plenty of unprotected networks out there, there are loads of opportunities for this.

Hewlett Packard shows very well that it can cater for more than one market with its Mobile Messenger in another respect. The device will come in two versions – one with a camera and one without (that’s the hw6510 without the camera and the hw6515 with). It is doing this, I suppose, to keep those companies who are concerned about staff having access to cameras in the workplace happy. Surely if Hewlett Packard can manage to produce kit with and without one hardware option, maybe it can do so with another? The camera situation is particularly annoying when you consider that the industrial espionage concern is fundamentally flawed – anyone wanting to photograph secret documents should have no trouble acquiring a camera-phone or even a small digital camera capable of the job just about as easily as they can buy a sandwich for lunch – and in the same hour’s break from the office.

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