- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: THE NET TURNS 20

Wednesday was a big day. Not only was it the start of the New Year, but wired.com reported it also was the Internet's 20th birthday. Many dates could be called the birthday of the Internet — from the day in 1961 when MIT's Leonard Kleinrock discovered packet-switching technology, creating the efficient communication method that allowed the Internet to be developed, to the advent of e-mail in the 1970s. The most important milestone in the creation of the modern-day Internet, however, wired.com reported, was on Jan. 1, 1983, when the nascent Net switched from Network Control Protocol to Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol. Protocols are the communications standards, or languages, that allow computers to speak to one another other over networks. The NCP protocol was sufficient for the small scale of the Internet in the early '80s, but insufficient for the exponential growth some industry insiders foresaw, wired.com said. The new and improved TCP/IP protocol was designed to be future-proof and run on any communication system, protocol co-founder Vint Cerf told wired.com. The switch was "tremendously important," said Rhonda Hauben, co-author of "Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet" — creating a system with the capacity to support the next two decades of innovation.

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THE GOOD: WI-FI TECHNOLOGY LEADS INTERNET IN 2003

Wireless technology will explode in 2003, which not only will make Internet connection that much more convenient, but also will spawn a new generation of gadgets, PCWorld.com predicts. A set of new wireless technology, or Wi-Fi, companies are working to make the technology commonplace in the next year. One new company, Cometa, launched in concert by AT&T;, IBM and Intel, plans to have 5,000 Wi-Fi "hot spots" in 50 U.S. metropolitan areas by the end of the year, said Cometa Vice President Steve Harris. The plan is to have 10,000 hot spots by 2004, so consumers in those 50 markets never will be more than a five-minute walk from wireless Internet access. Another new company, Vivato, is working on antenna technology that boosts the range of Wi-Fi hotspots from the current 300-foot capacity to as far as 4 miles, PCWorld reports. Meanwhile, among the applications and gadgets based on Wi-Fi technology PCWorld expects to see in the next year: cell phones linked to bank accounts, PDA wristwatches connected to a cellular network, devices to provide voice-enabled driving directions by pulling the data from the Internet, and applications at fast-food restaurants to take orders through Wi-Fi enabled PDAs instead of the current drive-thru intercom.

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THE BAD: SPAM AND ONLINE ID THEFT

Companies are going to have to work a lot harder in the coming year to protect themselves against two major Internet plagues: spam and identity theft. As BusinessWeek online reports, the volume of spam, or unwanted e-mail messages, will be faster than that of legitimate e-mail, making it harder to control. Not only will spam continue to innundate consumers' inboxes, industry experts tell BusinessWeek spammer will continue to get better at spamming instant messaging, or IM, users. In 2003, companies might have to look into private messaging systems, email consultancy Ferris Research told the magazine. Another development (not) to look forward to, according to BusinessWeek, is identity theft online. The Internet makes the difficult part of identity theft — accumulating the information — that much easier. Criminals, who used to trade credit card information online, have moved up to trading entire personal dossiers, the magazine reported. The good news out of all of this, BusinessWeek reports, is that it creates a great market for the computer security sector.

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ONLINE SHOPPING GETS GENTLEMAN'S "C"

Shoppers have weighed in on their experience with online shopping this holiday season. The result? A mediocre "C," or 69 percent, according to a survey by market researcher ForeSee Results. Although 69 percent is a "respectable score," the company says, it represents an 8-point drop from a 2001 American Consumer Satisfaction Index score using the same surveying techniques. Ten percent of online shoppers reported being extremely unsatisfied with their online shopping experience — and two-thirds of these shoppers say they do not plan to shop online next year. The survey examines a number of factors in consumer satisfaction with e-commerce, including browsing capabilities, privacy, and ease of returns. "In a soft economy, retail Web sites are going to have to work a lot harder to satisfy shoppers and convert positive experiences into online and offline sales," said Larry Freed, ForeSee Results chief executive officer. More than half of the consumers polled reported being very satisfied with their online shopping experience. If "e-tailers" improve key elements of their services, such as product browsing and ordering capabilities, Freed said, "the 2003 holiday season is theirs for the taking."

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