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Every January a sleepy swiss ski town hosts some 2,000 of the world's most influential corporate and political leaders -- from Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat to Jack Welch and Bill Gates -- for six days of seminars and informal conversation. The 2001 World Economic Forum was the 31st such gathering of global leaders in Davos. The forum took no chances when it came to communicating with its own participants. They stayed connected with a wireless local area network.

In a welcome bag, each participant received a free Compaq iPAQ pocket PC (which lists for $499). Preloaded with a complete list of participants and events, it served as a mobile conference guide. The information on the iPAQ was updated automatically through the wireless LAN whenever the participant carrying it entered the conference center.

What the Davos conference did with a wireless network may still be a few years down the road for most business conferences, but the transition to handheld-based conference guides has already begun. At the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last winter, for example, conference materials were available in a Palm-friendly format.

"You just brought your own Palm device, set it in the cradle, and synced up," says Alex Slawsby, an analyst of smart handheld devices at IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "Obviously, wireless networks would make attending big conferences a lot easier."

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