It’s amazing how quickly technology goes from an expensive frippery to a cost-insignificant near-essential. It’s not so many years ago that WiFi and Bluetooth first arrived (remember the Ericsson T29 or T68, the latter of which not only had a COLOUR screen but came with Bluetooth support – all you’d need is a £100 “Socket” Compact Flash card†, and your iPAQ could be GPRS enabled).
Bluetooth went from a travelling salesman’s “look at me” blinking earpiece, to wirelessly enabling things that don’t really need to be wirelessly enabled (and the seller’s earpiece is now pretty-much the territory only of airport taxi drivers). WiFi was developing in parallel.
Here’s a photo from 13 years ago, where the serving UK Prime Minister was entertained by a demo in the Microsoft TVP atrium, of a mobile app (equipped with smoke & mirrors) which used a WiFi network – but it pre-dated the Microsoft rollout of WiFi, necessitating about £500 worth of kit just to allow the hand-held device to talk to the network.
Nowadays, we’d rock up at an airport and be disappointed not only if there wasn’t WiFi, but there wasn’t some kind of freely available service. Buses have free WiFi. Often you can price-check online as you’re walking around the department store. We expect WiFi to connect our phones without racking up 4G charges. Time marches on.
It was 1999 (with the adoption of the 802.11b standard) before wireless networks (becoming known as WiFi or Wi-Fi depending on your degree of pedantry) started reliably working with kit between different vendors. This opened the door to successful adoption and eventual embedding in all sorts of devices. Bluetooth also developed apace, and has now carved out a niche (especially with Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE) for data comms over relatively short-range and comparatively low-power (against WiFi’s longer range, with higher power drain).
Although both standards offered options for peer-peer communications and operating in an “infrastructure” mode where there was an established network to connect to, Bluetooth only ever took off as a means of linking devices directly, and the vast majority of WiFi is deployed as a network of base stations.
Windows Phone 8 GDR3 and Windows 8.1
One neat function that was included in the latest major update to Windows Phone 8 (released under the “Lumia Black” moniker for Nokia handsets), turns your phone into a WiFi hotspot that can be remotely controlled by Windows 8.1. If you go into settings -> internet sharing on the phone, and set up internet sharing for the first time, it’ll give you a broadcast name and a numeric password.
You can now connect from some other device to the phone over WiFi, and use its data connection to get on the internet. Once you’ve set the connection up for the first time, with your laptop or tablet is running Windows 8.1, you can establish the connection any time without even needing to get your phone of the pocket – just swipe from the right, look under the network settings and tap to connect.
† Whilst on the topic of old networking kit, here are some old Bluetooth bits that I found in my Man Drawer. The PCMCIA wireless cards have all gone the way of the Dodo – these ones evaded the net on the basis of their size and the amount of money they costs to procure in the first place.
How can you throw something away that cost hundreds of pounds in its day and is now worthless for any reason other than as a curio?
Might as well keep them and maybe someday they’ll be worth something as a museum piece…