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Wireless wilderness: Internet access gains favor among campers

Tent? Check. Coleman stove? Check. Laptop? Darn right!

By Todd R. Weiss
August 5, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Camping essentials used to include Coleman lanterns, goose-down sleeping bags and water purification kits. But a growing number of campers are adding laptops to that list, and wireless Internet access in the great outdoors is becoming the new must-have.
Private campgrounds across the nation have been adding wireless Internet access in recent years, and state park campgrounds are apparently following suit in a number of places. And while few campsites in national parks offer wireless Internet so far, that could change if demand warrants.
Alan Friedman, CIO of the California State Parks system, said wireless Internet access has already been deployed in about 60 of the state's 85 parks since last fall in one of the first state deals with SBC Communications Inc.
The pilot project began because the state "has an ongoing obligation to provide services to visitors at the parks," Friedman said. "They're a diverse group of people. We were concerned that some people, because of the demands of their lives to be connected, were having trouble getting away to our parks because they lacked connectivity."
Park employees can also use the wireless access to do their jobs, he said.
In the California state parks that offer wireless access, only certain areas are equipped with the service. The hot spots in each park use low-power 2.4-GHz transmitters, which can be affected by interference from trees, buildings and other objects typically found in the area. "We had to really work with what we had in terms of where the facilities are," Friedman said.
The technical problems in getting wireless access to work in an open park is more complicated than offering it at a local coffee shop, especially if you are using a wireless laptop computer, he said. "They work really well in a coffee shop situation, but they don't [easily] work really well in a campground situation, particularly ... if you're far from the antenna."
The state doesn't yet have figures on the number of visitors using wireless access in the parks, Friedman said. But because many are in areas with poor or no cell phone reception, wireless Internet access can help visitors stay connected. That's important for people who travel from state to state in recreational vehicles, sometimes living for months on the road on vacations or after retiring. Wireless access allows them to do all their banking, family communications, bill paying and other online tasks from the comfort of their motor homes or tents in state parks, he said.
Visitors sometimes need special USB-based Wi-Fi adapters to improve Internet access on laptops, while others

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