Over the past few years the idea of connecting to the 'net without a cable in sight through Wi-Fi has become pretty standard fare in the developed world.
But the technology is also offering developing nations a chance to reach remote areas without laying down expensive new telephone cables or relying on decaying old ones, as David Reid found out when he visited Macedonia. Once part of the former Yugoslavia, a country that was better known as a potential ethnic trouble spot, it's now rapidly becoming a Wi-Fi hotspot.
While Macedonia was spared the violence that took hold of the region after the break up of Yugoslavia in the early 90s, more recently all eyes were on the country when its own ethnic tensions began to boil over.
Luckily it avoided full-blown civil war and is now on the brink of actually leading the world in what could be a template for other developing states - Macedonia has become the first wireless country.
Macedonia is dotted with villages. The mostly ethnic Albanians who live here are poor and rely for their livelihood on working whatever land they have. Their day-to-day rarely involves computers, let alone the Internet.
But a project funded by the United States' Agency for International Development has brought broadband Internet access to hundreds of such remote villages in Macedonia by putting the country's 460 primary and secondary schools online.
While the computers for the labs came from China, USAID's side of the project, called Macedonia Connects, was to pay for a local company to provide wireless Internet access for the nation's schools, and while doing so roll out a wireless communication network across the whole country.
Leigh Shamblin, USAID, Macedonia: "We're paying for Internet services in schools for two years, and because we did that the local ISP, which was chosen through the competitive process, was able to build out this network. That will allow Internet access to become affordable and accessible to people in many sectors of society."
But first a bit of giant killing. In laying out its own national network, On.Net, the Macedonian company doing the work on the ground, had to go up against the local telecoms giant who enjoyed a comfortable monopoly.
Predrag Cemerikik, On.Net: "Traditionally, like in every country, there is an incumbent telecoms operator who possess all the wires across a country. And they are of course in a monopolistic environment. What we did is build our own big bone network across the country, and last mile access to overcome that situation."
The network makes use of Macedonia's bumpy terrain by using mountains as distribution points for wireless connectivity - a network connecting the parts copper wires cannot reach.
Glenn Strachan, Project Director, Macedonia Connects: "I think when people hear 'wireless' these days they think of Wi-Fi connectivity and WiMax, which is the newest brand of wireless connectivity. What we have is an ability to transmit wirelessly throughout the country, and then put a customer-premise piece of equipment at the school anywhere in this country. Those people, once they have that piece of equipment, will have Internet connectivity."
Meanwhile, by using what's called mesh technology, Macedonia Connects is creating not Wi-Fi hot-spots, but hot-zones which stretch fifteen kilometres over a city.
Opinions are divided on projects like Macedonia Connects. Some question whether many of these people really need broadband connectivity, others insist the Internet should stand alongside roads, water and electricity as essential infrastructure.
In Macedonia, where the spectre of a civil war that was narrowly avoided still remains, there is faith that the Internet might ease community tensions.
In schools for example, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians are often taught separately. In some schools there are two different principals, two different sets of teachers, two different names depending on which ethnic group is attending at the time. The hope is that the Macedonia connects project will bridge some of these divisions.
Zoran Popovski, Secretary of State for Education and Science: "It should serve as a very useful tool for interactive communication between multi-ethnic schools. They can organise a debate between them. They can organise some events between them."
If people living in the same town can't get on it might be an idle hope that the Internet will magically get them talking to each other.
What the Internet can do, however, is what it has done everywhere else: help businesses make money. The high economic tide might also raise fortunes on both sides of the ethnic divide.
Jani Makraduli, MP and President of the Macedonia IT Committee: "We need the Internet as a sea, because Macedonia is not on the sea, so we think that the Internet is our sea and an open window for a lot of economic changes and new economic growth in our country."
The Internet might not be the hi-tech cure for Macedonia's ethnic tensions, however what's going on here could be a template for other medium-sized countries.
Macedonia might be the first wireless country. It is unlikely to be the last.
(BBC World, November 10th 2005)