Is digital nomad living going mainstream?

Who'd a thunk it? A fringe band of crazy working globe-trotters just might be onto something

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Products like Amazon.com's line of e-book reader, the Kindle, and the gaming system Zeebo (from Tectoy and Qualcomm), use a newish model for delivering mobile broadband. Under this model, the cell-phone carrier supplies cell-phone-style wireless data, and their customer is the content provider (Amazon.com or Zeebo, for example), not the end user. In both cases, most of the use of the connection is for buying things, so the device maker has an incentive to provide the otherwise free broadband. Users love it because they never see a wireless bill or worry about extra charges for data. And the carriers love it because they get additional revenue without any customer-acquisition costs or additional infrastructure buildouts.

As this model spreads, we'll see digital cameras, GPS devices, wristwatches and all kinds of other devices with baked-in mobile broadband. This will advance the digital nomad lifestyle because you'll have less need to go find a Wi-Fi hotspot or even a computer in order to upload, download and communicate from gadgets.

A recent article in Travel Management pointed out that in-flight Wi-Fi is "spotty but showing promise." Interestingly, they suggested that airlines might start cutting deals with businesses so that employees would essentially get "free Wi-Fi," but paid for in bulk with volume discounts by the companies.

Airlines are starting to test free, in-flight Wi-Fi. American Airlines announced this month that it is testing free Wi-Fi through Aug. 23 (use the promo code AAWiFi76194A1 on the flight, and you don't have to pay). AirTran Airways is also offering free Wi-Fi from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 on shuttle flights between Boston and Washington, D.C.

This looks to me like the airlines are sliding down that slippery slope to simply offering free Wi-Fi in a year or two.

Offering free Wi-Fi will be found by the airlines to be cost-effective in the long run anyway. The reason is that with cell phones, including the iPhone, media players, including the iPod Touch, and a new generation of media tablets lead by the rumored Apple tablet, just about everyone who steps onboard an airplane will be carrying a Wi-Fi capable device. By offering free Wi-Fi, airlines can stop having to install and maintain entertainment services. They can place their own ads on the Wi-Fi network connection but let passengers simply entertain themselves using their own equipment.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that there are about 500 commercial airplanes equipped with Wi-Fi, but that number will double by the end of the year.

Barnes & Noble Inc. this week announced that it would offer free Wi-Fi at its 800 stores.

We'll get to the point within a year or two that every restaurant, airport, airplane, bus, train and park bench can serve as a wirelessly connected office.

I'm convinced that the digital nomad lifestyle is becoming less exotic and more likely. In the near future, it will become even commonplace.

So what about you? Any plans to get on board? Let me know: mike@elgan.com

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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