My initial introduction to wireless networking was in Monterey, California, at OSCON (Open Source Conference) 2000. O'Reilly arranged free public wireless access for conference attendees. The tremendous flexibility of being able to connect to the network from anywhere led to all sorts of interesting, unforeseen interactions. For example, people attending a large talk could converse in real time over IRC and discuss the talk (and even critique the speaker) without raising their voices. They could use the Net as a resource when asking the speaker questions, to draw out very interesting points by way of real-time examples. With an instant messaging client, ubiquitous wireless made an effective, free, two-way paging system. (Rather than trying to use the overloaded PCS phone system, it was now possible to send a quick "Where do you want to meet for lunch?" message, and get a response back instantly.) Conference attendees no longer had to return to their hotel rooms for dialup access, or be banished to a terminal room away from where the action was, just to check their email or refer to a web page. That was assuming, of course, that one had an 802.11b card and laptop handy. Personally, I had to wrestle a card away from a buddy who happened to have a spare. I realized that networking on borrowed time wouldn't cut it; I simply had to pack my own.
On returning from OSCON, there was much interest at O'Reilly in getting wireless networking going at the office. If that much flexibility could be put in place for very low cost, why weren't we using it in-house? If conference-goers could use the stuff to grill speakers for information more effectively, what could it do for our company meetings and presentations? And so, without even knowing my Direct Sequence from my Spread Spectrum, I started down the long, winding path of wireless networking.