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Plug in to wireless

When you're sitting in Starbucks and someone whips out a laptop and connects to T-Mobile's wireless broadband network, it's time to wake up and smell the muffins. And if you want a more European coffee aroma with your internet, Costa Coffee has BT's services available.

If you hadn't already noticed, there's a revolution going on - and it's called wi-fi. Apparently, much of the centre of Cardiff already has its own, free wireless broadband service.

For education there are massive implications, not least the possibility of ducking expensive wiring charges where possible. But who would now buy a laptop without considering whether it's wi-fi enabled so you can take advantage of the connectivity becoming available? It's even possible to use wi-fi for a broadband connection at home from around pound;100, so a family can share that expensive line to get maximum use.

Laptops are beginning to make a big difference in schools. The latest survey results from the British Education Suppliers Association report a 100 per cent increase in take up. And Becta (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), which handles the national scheme to supply teachers with laptops, has issued 53,000 so far at an average price of pound;882 (you can see full details at www.lft.ngfl.gov.uk). Around pound;60 million is available in the current financial year and pound;40 million in the following.

Becta has tested the quality of equipment and support from the suppliers on its list and is monitoring sales and satisfaction. However, there is precious little advice for teachers - the advice so far (minimum specifications) is going to LEAs, which will be taking decisions for teachers.

In the meantime, teachers would do well to look at a range of offerings (we have a selection on the next two pages) to get the most out of what is on offer and possible influence decisions. At the BETT educational technology show in Olympia, London, next week, the level and range of competition will be obvious, with machines from the likes of Toshiba, Apple, Hi-Grade, TIME, Centerprise and PC World.

Merlin John

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