Issue #184, October 28, 1998  

Finally:  Wireless gets Its respect

By Stephen Lawton

     Just one year ago, I was writing for another magazine about the passage of the IEEE 802.11 standard, which finally gave the networking industry something to hang its collective hat on for wireless technology. This was the standard that was supposed to bring order to what had been a chaotic industry trying desperately to set itself straight. Never mind that there still was a disagreement over whether the approach should be frequency-hopping spread spectrum or direct sequence spread spectrum the fact that 802.11 existed was enough.
     Today, products are shipping that meet the 802.11 standard. Its true that they arent as fast as wired networks the standard tops out at 2Mbps but the products are real, they interoperate (for the most part), and you can install them now. It took roughly seven years for the first standard to be approved, but there is already debate on standards-based 10Mbps, 12Mbps, 25Mbps and even 100Mbps wireless. Now that would be something.
     Earlier this year, I saw a demo at the Networld+Interop show in Las Vegas that was really quite impressive. I had a notebook computer equipped with a PC Card NIC and antenna from BreezeCom. The access point was in the booth at one end of the hall and I was able to walk all the way to the other end of the hall. Then, I took the notebook out of the hall and headed into the main entry area of the convention center. I was able to get about 10 to 15 feet outside the door of the hall, and well out of line of sight of the access point, before the signal was lost. An impressive display, considering the tradeoff one makes for distance is bandwidth.
     Once the wireless companies standardize a higher-speed wireless link, possibly 25Mbps, the old argument that wireless is too slow will be difficult to defend. Even at 10Mbps, wireless matches traditional Ethernet and outperforms older Token Ring networks. At 25 Mbps, it will challenge switched Ethernet with the distinct advantage of being easier to install in quite a few environments. We strongly support the advancement of the wireless standard for higher speeds.
     For the small, professional office with lots of users but no full-time IT manager, installing a network without cutting into the wall to lay cable can be quite an appealing argument. This is especially true for older or historic buildings with limited access.
     The same can be said for larger facilities, such as warehouses, where line drops from the ceiling can be problematic, not to mention unsightly. Even hospitals are starting to take to wireless, arguing that wireless communications will not disrupt pacemakers and other electronic devices embedded in patients. I certainly hope so; Id hate to have my pacemaker (if I had one) move to the beat of the Dow Jones ticker.

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