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Eleven Picks for Wi-Fi Greatness

As financial journalists have grown distrustful of fundamental analysis in recent months, they've turned to technical or price-driven views of the market.

Epic stories about companies and their supposedly heroic managers that dominated business news outlets in the 1990s have gone out the court house window. Instead, tortured statistical theories, ranging from January barometers to presidential election cycles, have come in through a crack in the cellblock door.

How dull. These approaches say more about reporters' emotional response to being duped by corporate leaders and brokerage analysts than about real needs of investors.

So, in the spirit of innovation and rejuvenation, I'd like to turn my back briefly on the numerical view of the markets that SuperModels has trademarked, and instead work together with readers to focus on the people and businesses that have survived the worst bear market in two generations.

Working together, surely we can come up with some major economic and technological trends to ride through 2003 and beyond. Last year, the winning idea would have been gold-mining companies, regional banks and bonds -- all of which were amply proposed by readers in cheery emails not long after 2002 had gotten under way.

Readers' Wi-Fi Picks

Let's start with the wireless local-area network market that I wrote about at length a month ago. I asked readers for suggestions on companies that were poised to take advantage of this technology's undeniable growth prospects. And I received more than 200 responses in return.

Tom Zachman of Dodge City, Kan., believes that wi-fi "is the starting point from where communications becomes unplugged. But the problem is that it follows the old model of centralized communications hubs that become sluggish with abundant use." Zachman believes the next evolution will be "mesh networks," in which every user is a "repeater" that links other users.

This is a great idea, as it improves the robustness of the data flow. Zachman proposed this vivid image: "Wi-fi follows our social patterns. Imagine a party where no two people talk directly, but the host is responsible for relaying every spoken word (packet). Now look at how people interact when a rumor is thrown into the scene. Now add a drunk who constantly interrupts the host, and you will understand how Internet servers interact with centralized wireless connectivity. It's a mess."

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