Now we have WiFi, it’s sometimes harder to think what we can’t do, rather than what we can. With WiFi we have the internet instantly at our fingertips, as long as we have a smartphone, mobile device or laptop close to hand.

Life before the Internet

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the internet. Staying in touch with people far away would require posting a letter. Banking involved lengthy queues in the local branch. Literature would be taken out from the library, a book to read to pass the time or some educational content to help with studies. Application forms might take several attempts to get spelling and grammar accurate. Dictionaries and thesaurus would nestle among the many books adorning the shelves in your house – not to mention records and videos piled high. To plan a journey you would take out a map. A trip into town was the only way to check out the latest fashions and comparing prices would require you to visit all the shops and look around. Party invites went out by paper, word of mouth or a phone call.

The Internet (Pre-WiFi)

The internet changed the world and revolutionised the way we live. Suddenly the world could be accessed at the touch of a button. Gone were the days when we were waiting for information and doing hours of research at the local library.

One of the largest changes post internet (think Facebook and Skype, for example) was the way people communicate with one another – resulting in us being able to contact people from all over the world in an instant. How exciting to think that stories created now will never be lost and future generations will be able to access today’s posts as a history lesson of their own making.

A change in the way we use the internet

The internet is no doubt an amazing revolution. A study by Pew Research Centre found that people would rather live without TV than without internet access.

Then came WiFi. Initially this made it easier in the workplace or home, with laptops or other mobile devices being taken to the nearest ‘hotspot’ where internet could be accessed. Nowadays there aren’t many places (at home, work or in public), where a WiFi connection cannot be accessed. The Pew study demonstrates this as WiFi has increased the use of internet dramatically. In 2000, when WiFi was less available, 29% of Americans went online per day compared to 71% today. WiFi has clearly changed our lives in many ways.

Making a better society

The potential for WiFi is endless. For example, police can already track criminals in an instant via mugshots being sent over a device. The future of cops includes using tablets to allow the police to check a criminal record whilst at the scene. Informing the public via social media of important warning messages or vice versa a homeowner could alert others via Twitter that an intruder is in their house instead of making a noisy call. There is also autonomous crowd monitoring via devices using sensor networks to track people whilst ‘undercover.’

In healthcare establishments we have already seen many major advances using WiFi, such as wayfinding tools to get patients to the right location, opportunity to receive feedback on services, information on waiting times, monitoring use of resources around a hospital building and so on.

There are also more ambitious plans some of which are discussed by Joe Elvin. Accessing patient’s notes instantly is a massive progression in patient care. Think of the time that could be saved in responding to accidents, such as quickly finding a patient’s blood group, or home visits where there is no need to wait on the phone to get a patient’s list of allergies and medical history. Armed with more information, it is less likely that errors will be made in medicine administration. In future, scans, x-ray results, blood pressure checks and cholesterol checks could be all scanned straight into a patient’s notes.

Connected cities

An enterprising move comes from the plans to ‘connect’ whole cities. The benefits of creating a WiFi solution for whole cities at once clearly is an attractive proposition for both city managers and citizens. For the city it may improve lifestyles in the form of greater productivity and services, improved planning and development, collaboration in the digital era and economic growth. For the citizens it could improve life quality by creating seamless access to the online world.

It is clear that WiFi certainly has changed the world.