The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

November 2002

by Terry Borst

filed 01 November 02 Copyright ©2002 alt.screenwriters

Been spending more time than you’d like at the airport? Sure, you may be taking your laptop computer with you to get some work done while waiting at the gate — but what if you’re on deadline, and you need to send off a script or outline to a producer, agent, or writing partner? You’re stuck, right?

Well, not any more. The same holds true if you’re at a Starbucks. Ditto the Hilton or Marriott. And, yes, in the hotel you can theoretically connect your laptop to the Internet using your room phone — but if you’ve tried that, you know what a hassle that is: extra cables … good luck even finding the phone jack … don’t forget to reprogram the Windows Dial-Up Connection … don’t forget to add the “9” for an outside line…don’t expect any sort of connection speed … be prepared for a big phone charge on that hotel bill… What, you forgot to look up the local ISP number for Colorado Springs or Cincinnati? Let’s face it: it’s nearly a miracle if you can electronically deliver a script while you’re on the road.

But imagine that you’re at the airport, or Starbucks, or the Hilton — or even Golden Gate Park. You power up your laptop — and instantly, you’re connected to the Internet. Wirelessly. And now you can email or FTP that script, or “google” that producer, or finish the online research you need…

No, this is not a scenario from a Spielberg sci-fi movie. It’s here. It’s now. And it’s possible through a technology called Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is a nickname, of course. Technically, we are talking about wireless Ethernet IEEE 802.11b networking. But who’s going to remember that?

How, exactly, does Wi-Fi work? Wi-Fi starts with wireless transmitters and relayers, which network together and connect directly to the Internet, at broadband (i.e., fast) speed. Providing a computer has its own Wi-Fi transmitter and receiver, it can exchange data with this network — and with the Internet.

You might think this means you’ll have to carry around a DirecTV satellite dish with your laptop, but in fact, the Wi-Fi connection can be contained on a “PC card” that can be inserted into almost any laptop computer.

Apple iBook users have Wi-Fi built into their systems — a feature called AirPort — and they have been the first to begin using Starbucks as a full-time office (numerous Starbucks coffee houses are Wi-Fi enabled). But Windows users can purchase Wi-Fi cards for just over $100 now, and increasingly, Windows laptop computers are being sold with Wi-Fi built in.

The major stumbling block is whether a Wi-Fi network has been set up at a location. Several companies are now setting up these networks (called Wi-Fi “hot spots”) across the country, none more aggressively than Wayport — who first started servicing Apple Airport users — and Boingo Wireless, a company founded by the same entrepreneur who started Earthlink.

Wayport and Boingo have both established hot spots at a number of airports (domestic and international), hundreds of hotels, and in various city locations.

So how do you find a Boingo or Wayport hot spot? First, you’re going to need that Wi-Fi card — built in or added to your laptop. Then you’ll need to download the hot spot provider’s free software (from its website) and install it. Now, any time you power up your laptop, it will seek out the nearest Wi-Fi signal (not unlike what a cell phone does), and automatically connect you if it can find one.

The first time you use Boingo or Wayport, you’ll have to give them some credit card information. While some of these provider’s hot spots are free to use (so-called “community” hot spots), most will require a fee. Boingo, for example, has several service plans — an “all you can eat” deal for $75/month, 10 connect days a month for $25, or $8 for all-day use. Wayport is offering unlimited usage for $30/month, on an introductory basis.

Think of it: $8 — in order to catch up on email, do research, send flowers, and deliver a script all while sitting at the airport — just might be the greatest bargain around. And if you seem to be spending all your time in airports and hotels and Starbucks these days … a monthly $25-75 fee for nearly unlimited wireless Internet access could be even more of a steal.

Boingo Director of Product Management Christian Gunning describes a deadline situation he confronted: “I landed in a Wi-Fi enabled airport, logged on as I exited my plane and headed toward my connecting flight, and sent a 6-megabyte file to a business partner (on deadline) while I walked. When I got to the connecting flight, I logged off and boarded the plane.”

Other companies are setting up similar hot spot networks, and within a few years, it is likely that Wi-Fi will become as ubiquitous as the nation’s cell phone coverage.

A generation of screenwriters has already gotten used to delivering projects electronically — but it has still required a fax machine, or a wired telephone connection, and often a bit of patience and good luck. Now, even those restrictions are being lifted. And who knows? This may result in more screenwriters on location — or, at the very least, it might mean selling the Kinko’s stock now, rather than later…

Written by tborst

November 1, 2002 at 2:13 am

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