Sunday, April 24, 2005

Urban Grind

One of my favorite aspects of living in Portland is the variety of coffeeshops. They range from larger chains, like Peet's and Seattle's Best to small, hip places like Annabanana's, Backspace, and, my personal favorite, Urban Grind. For a tech-minded person like myself, Urban Grind strikes the right balance between tech savvy and good old-fashioned customer service.

It's a large, open space with lots of comfortable couches and chairs. It also serves as a gallery, showcasing a variety of pieces from local artists. Any given day, you're likely to see students, artists, musicians, and programmers commingling and slurping down large quantities of Urban Grind's excellent, home-roasted coffee. If that's not enough, there's free WiFi, courtesy of the Personal Telco Project, and Mac, who rocks.

I like to spend at least one morning here a week, mainly to do some research and meet random people. Case in point, I was just chillin' on the couch, typing this post, and I noticed that the guy sitting across from me had a Personal Telco sticker on his laptop. I asked him about it, and it turns out that in addition to contributing to Personal Telco, he's a technical marketing engineer at Intel, working on laptops that we'll see in two years.

Would I have stumbled across someone this cool at a local Starbucks? I think not. Nor would I be as wired, but I digress...

We had a good talk about Linux, open source networking utilities, and the future of paid WiFi. As a Microsoft-centric programmer developing software that, among other things, enables people to charge for wireless access, it was interesting to talk to someone who derides Windows and thinks that paid WiFi will only work in very niche markets. He had some valid points, and it will be interesting to see where the market goes.

My take on it is that there will be a continued market for paid wireless, particularly in the hospitality and travel industries, where you have a captive audience. Also, as wireless networks evolve and higher bandwidth content becomes available, a new market for ultra-high bandwidth will emerge, and people (like me) will be willing to pay for premium service.

Just like TV, which supports over the air, basic cable, and digital high definition, internet access will continue to have differing tiers of service. Now it's 56k, DSL, and FIOS for wired access, but it's basically WiFi (802.11b/g/x) and everything else (3G and it's brethren) for wireless. Eventually, 802.11x won't be enough for Joe Consumer to use his Killer App wirelessly, and he'll be willing to pay a little extra for better service. This is, IMHO, where the market for paid wireless access will continue to exist. And with a little luck, it will be Powered by Eleven™

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