Nigel explains how internet connections work

Broadband
The thing to bear in mind is that standard BT lines were designed to cary voice calls rather than data. When one attempts to send data, in the form of "1"s and "0"s through an ordinary line, there is always the risk that the data might get stuck where the wire goes around a sharp curve. This is a particular problem with the "1"s which are larger and have sharp edges. The "0"s are usually slippery enough to get through.

When you get broadband, the BT engineer will trace your line back to the local exchange, and will straighten out any kinks or sharp bends for you. It is advisable to check the telephone wiring inside your house BEFORE trying to send data through it, because clearing blocked telephone wiring can only be done using a very high-pressure data source, rated T1 or above. For the average DIY enthusiast, replacement of the wiring is usually the only option.

If you ever have to replace telephone wiring which is blocked with data, remember to shake the old cable thoroughly and then check for any stray "1"s or "0"s which may have fallen onto the carpet. These are worth saving in case you ever need to repair bad sectors on a floppy disk.

Wireless hot-spots
It's not going to revolutionise surfing as we know it, but if you have a wi-fi card anyway, and you have your laptop with you as you sip cappuccino in a cafe in Soho, why not? If in doubt, follow the money: if it was going to be popular, why would a tiny company be providing it for free?

Virgin TrainPersonally, I see the immediate future of wireless internet access as a bowl of complimentary peanuts. Coffee shops, business-class lounges in airports, first class cabins in trains, conference centres and so forth will offer this service free to their customers as a little added incentive to go there. Hotels might do it merely to free themselves from a) people wandering down to the front desk and asking for an Uzbekistani to British telephone jack and b) Occasional maniacs dismantling the telephones in their rooms in order to hotwire in their modems. Some bright spark will probably package a cheap airtime deal with a 12V 3G to wi-fi converter so as to offer this service in London Taxis for a small premium.

In any case, it will be the widespread adoption of home wireless broadband sharing that will provide the critical mass of people with wireless access cards in their laptops. I don't see the business world going wireless en masse quite yet, because of nightmare visions of their competitors parking over the road with a laptop and a Pringles tin. Also, they've already bought and installed all that copper, and it works fine.

The best analogy is probably the telephone. You use a mobile network when out and about, and short-range radio linked to a fixed line when in a friendly building. Because the data-access industry is not entirely dominated by some hulking socialist-inspired monolith dragging it's heels and pining for the Dark Ages, we can hopefully look forward to seamless switching between these two networks as you walk down the street to post a letter. (Yes, I deliberately included posting a letter in my utopian vision of future technology so as to give Phil his morning cardiovascular workout.)

I'm interested in non-computer applications for home wireless networking technology. Once enough people have the infrastructure, it wouldn't cost that much extra to chuck a receiver into your coffee maker so you can email it from your bedside and tell it to get the caffeine dripping. If the technology follows the customary trend of becoming nine orders of magnitude more effective in ten years, that would let you distribute audio and video data wherever you wanted without wires. You could programme your oven with a friendly computer-hosted GUI, rather than standing in the kitchen pressing-and-holding ten buttons simultaneously and pecking at three more with your nose while trying to remember some arcane procedure you haven't used since last Christmas eve and peering as a two square inch LCD trying to identify a flashing icon that vaguely resembles a rabbit giving birth to a printing press. 
Wherever that was going... 



On the topic of telephony, here's a photo of Nigel demonstrating how to hack a mobile phone SIM card:

Nigel hacks a SIM card

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