Wireless Internet comes to eastern New Mexico

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The latest commodity to arrive in some eastern New Mexico cafes isn’t coffee-bean inspired. It’s called wireless Internet, wireless fidelity or Wi-Fi for short. In many booming metropolises, the service, which allows consumers to log onto the Internet without a cable or telephone connection, arrived long ago. Eastern New Mexico is slowly catching up.

Clovis resident Terry Potter said he connects to the Internet away from home and the office about twice a week. He simply totes his laptop to a hotspot — any place where a Wi-Fi signal can be tapped. Potter usually gets an afternoon cup of coffee and checks his e-mail at the Java Loft.

He shelled out less than $60 to become a Wi-Fi user, he said. A piece of equipment the size of a quarter connects to the side of his laptop, enabling the 60-year-old insurance agent to surf the net from coffeehouses, hotels, college campuses, and even parks. As long as the area is connected to a Wi-Fi tower, or is equipped with an antenna, Potter is in business. Such spots are sparse in Clovis and Portales, but they are on the rise.

Wi-Fi harnesses radio technology to send and receive data (within the range of a base station). The service, however, is widely shrouded in mystery, according to Robert Tidwell, who works in the electronics department at Wal-Mart.

“Technology changes about every six to eight months,” Tidwell said. “There’s always something bigger, something better, something faster. The downfall to wireless technology is that there are not enough hotspots for the people who know about Wi-Fi and want to use it. For those who know nothing about Wi-Fi, there’s not a lot of information available.”

Tidwell said although more and more companies are producing laptops, the technology won’t be included in all models for about another year. And laptops, he said, comprise just the tip of the wireless iceberg. There are hundreds of cell phones and earpieces, printers and PCs to choose from and the devices — produced by a range of companies such as Sprint and Nextell — are not always compatible. The belated Wi-Fi technology breakthrough in the Midwest corresponds with little to no educated consumers, Tidwell said.

“I’m still learning how it all works,” said Potter, inducted into the Wi-Fi world just three months ago. “It’s the school of hard knocks — I just punch the keyboard until it works.”
The complexity of Wi-Fi isn’t discouraging users, however. According to Java Loft employee Joy Widener, the service is popular and can even be addictive.

“Some people use it (Wi-Fi) religiously. They come in every day, sometimes two or three times a day,” Widener said.
Another Clovis hotspot is Roden-Smith Village, a super store with a pharmacy, gift shop and cafe.

“I see it as just an added perk,” said Roden-Smith Village owner Bruce Gray. “If you want to grab a cup of coffee and you haven’t checked your e-mail yet, it’s a perfect chance to do both.”

There are two advertised hotspots in Portales — at Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Taco Box.

A full-blown Wi-Fi invasion may only be around the corner.
Hastings Books, Music and Video is “slowly wiring its cafes” at franchises across the nation, according to employee Sandi Loomis.

The Clovis-Carver Library stepped into hotspot status about a month ago, according director Marilyn Belcher.
“We felt it was the way the future was moving,” Belcher said.