Microsoft's Surface tablets appear to be Wi-Fi only in their initial release. Is this good enough for the company's first dive into the tablet market, or a major faux pas?
If reports are correct – and Microsoft has shown it can keep secrets better than Apple, so we just don't know – the Windows lads decided to stick with the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle for Surface network connectivity. Rather than having to cope with a mishmash of different 3G and 4G networks around the world, Wi-Fi provides a standardized way to access the cloud. Surface has the chops in terms of onboard storage and applications to operate as a standalone device to get work done when there isn't connectivity, unlike Google's initial Chromebook tries.
Backing up that decision is a renaissance of sorts for universal Wi-Fi coverage. Cellular companies are hot for more Wi-Fi since they can use it to off-load overloaded cell tower networks and extend broadband coverage where they don't have towers or microcells available.
The cable industry has joined in to implement Wi-Fi roaming/sharing across their network, offering over 50,000 hotspots under the CableWi-Fi alliance. You can finally find Wi-Fi on planes, trains and buses, with the airline industry having its own renewed love affair with in-flight Internet connectivity.
So far, so good. The downside comes when you visit locations where the Wi-Fi network isn't up to the task. Nothing screams unreliable Wi-Fi like a hotel with a cheap microwave oven in every room.
Smartphones and pocket-sized 3G/4G mobile hotspots like the MiFi style wireless routers would seem to offer a solution, providing cellular network broadband outside of a public location's resources. But we all know the most convenient way to connect is through Wi-Fi. Fortunately, most smartphones and some hotspots provide micro-USB flavored cabling as an alternative.
Tethering via Wi-Fi or cable does have one limitation – power. Smartphones running 4G and Wi-Fi end up chewing power at a rapid clip, resulting in a portability that's hunting for a wall outlet or powerstrip in short order.
The final alternative for mobile broadband is the USB "stick" modem. I own both Virgin Mobile and Verizon Wireless devices and can't remember the last time I've used them. Given Microsoft's investment in Surface design, I wouldn't be surprised to see the appearance at least one "elegant" USB 3G/4G modem device that cleanly clips onto a Surface tablet without sticking out like a sore thumb drive.
Want to learn more about the impact and potential future of White Spaces? Then be sure to attend the Super Wi-Fi Summit, collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5 2012, in Austin, TX. Co-sponsored by TMC Partner Crossfire Media the Super Wi-Fi Summit will address the opportunities, challenges and technical issues surrounding the use of White Spaces for wireless broadband services. The event will cover all aspects of the White Spaces market including, results and next steps for recent technical trials, White Spaces backhaul opportunities, database issues, White Spaces Devices, Spectrum Issues, Standards and more. For more information on registering for the Super Wi-Fi Summit click here.
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