2006 Could Be Year of Free Wi-Fi

If your New Year's resolution is to not pay for wireless Internet access when you're out and about, you've got a good chance of keeping it. Kevin McKenzie, chief executive officer of JiWire.com, says '06 could turn out to be a year of real freedom.

"Wi-Fi is going to be ubiquitous," he said. "You're going to see more municipal hot zones going from announcement to reality." And if it's not the City of Brotherly Love, or downtown Long Beach, maybe the benefactor will be the owner of the corner café. "We've seen a huge increase in shops offering free Internet access as a way to get people in their doors," McKenzie said.

His JiWire.com is a Web-based directory to 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots around the world. Last year there was virtually no free public access in the U.S. This year he's counted 7,000 locations.

Among national chains offering the amenity at no cost are Panera Bread (PNRA) , and Schlotzsky's Deli. Starbucks (SBUX) , Barnes & Noble (BKS) and Fed Ex Kinko's (FDX) sell daily access to broadband Internet connections.

The new year also promises to bring more Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access data or make telephone calls, McKenzie added. So-called Voice Over Wi-Fi handsets are already on the market from Motorola (MOT) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) .

N.Y. Transit Strike Boosts Online Shopping

New York-area shoppers went online when they couldn't get to the stores this week. During the first two days of the transit strike, the share of U.S. online spending in the metro area increased 28%, according to a report by ComScore Networks. New York's share of total online buying rose to 4.4% from 3.4%.

"It is clear that customers turned to the Internet for their last minute shopping needs," said Tal Zamir, director, ComScore Networks.

The Best 2006 Predictions

Jason McCabe Calacanis is anything but reticent. The founder of Weblogs Inc., a network of dozens of advertising-supported blogs, is a successful, serial entrepreneur. In a season when lots of folks peer into the future of technology, Calacanis' experience and background make "My (20) Predictions for 2006" worth noting.

Some are fanciful and some are just too geeky to pass along. But, remember these. CNET (CNET) will be bought by Yahoo (YHOO) or Fox Interactive/Newscorp (NWS). The New York Times (NYT) will cut the newsroom staff by 10% to 20%. Google's (GOOG) stock will take its first significant (more than a 15%) drop, and Google Adsense for podcasts and/or video will debut by Oct. 1. No podcasting company will have any significant success in 2006, but a number of podcasters will be offered great jobs by Sirius (SIRI) and XM Radio (XMSR).

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