What is RoamNet?

Opinion: A gaggle of scholars from Cambridge, MIT and elsewhere had a hard time answering that question, even though the group is charged with evaluating the future of communications.

I didnt ask the media experts about advertising. That wouldnt have been fair. Advertising is what the future of media is all about, so I didnt really expect them to be experts on that.

No, I asked a simple sort of question: "What is RoamNet?" And I warned them: "I dont want a simple answer."

Actually, they didnt know the simple answer.

They were academics assembled from Englands Cambridge University, from MIT (yes, in Massachusetts), from the University of London and from British Telecoms research wing.

And what is RoamNet? It is the SSID (service set identifier) of the university Wi-Fi facility provided to the academic community in the U.K. Thats the simple answer, just to put you out of your suspense. Nothing to do with advertising.

Why did that matter? It mattered because we were all sitting in the Chadwick Lecture Theatre in Londons oldest university—University College—discussing the future of communications. And we had no Internet access.

Yes, that old chestnut, a bunch of shoemakers with barefoot kids. A clutch of jockeys with horse-fur allergies. A collection of bankers who dont qualify for overdraft facilities.

/zimages/7/28571.gifA quicker embrace of GSM would help the spread of Wi-Fi in the United States. Click here to read more.

We had nearly everything and everybody. Heck, we had the head of the Cambridge Computer laboratory. We had two senior professors from the MIT Media Laboratory and several chancellors and vice chancellors and pro vice chancellors (dont ask, I havent a clue), and we had senior BT research people from Adastral Park.

So, I asked the Panel of Great and Good, "What is RoamNet?" And none of them knew what I was talking about, which rather scared me. Then, David P. Reed from the MIT Media Laboratory, sitting in the front row of the lecture theater, diffidently raised his notebook computer. "Its the network I couldnt log on to," he said.

Indeed it was. And once they knew what the problem was, the answers flowed. Heck no; not answers but excuses. "Its because the network is provided on a not-for-profit basis," went one excuse. "Its because we have to deal with the threat from virus and Trojan attacks on the network," was the next.

"If only wed known you wanted access," another excuse began, "we could have registered your MAC address ... " Only, in deference to my ignorant journalistic status, he didnt use the technical term.

All of the excuses you get from the typical BOFH (bastard operator from hell) who runs the network and is fed up with doing extra work for no extra pay. And indeed, when the truth came out, all of these excuses, excuses, why, they turned out to be nonsense.

Next Page: When asked to provide wireless access, university officials said, "No problem!"