Freedom is a wireless world

Imagine the freedom of being able to take a laptop in to the conference room and not have to worry about finding a socket, just so the LAN can be accessed. Imagine sitting in an airport lounge being able to access the corporate Intranet, without having to use the business centre. Sounds far-fetched? Not anymore. Wireless technology is here and vendors have big plans to rid the world of cables. Are you ready for it?

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By  Colin Browne Published  March 12, 2001

The impact of wireless|~||~||~|Wireless technology is doing it again. It is redefining the parameters in which we work, making access to the world far easier and cheaper. The Internet was the original demon that transformed businesses across the globe, but now, it’s the turn of wireless.

You may wonder how on earth could wireless technology have the same forceful impact on the way we work, and play, than the Internet? Well, wireless will allow access to the world, anytime, anywhere. Previously you were allowed access only if you were connected to an access device with cables snaking their way through walls, and across ceilings and floors.

Vendors in the region have already begun citing the benefits of wireless technology and the overriding expectation is one of huge business benefits and profits, starting this year. “We have had a lot of interest across the region for wireless products, as we now don’t just have a LAN solution to offer customers but a wireless LAN as well. Business is definitely happening, ” James Walker, product marketing manager, 3Com Middle East told CRN.

“Wireless will make a huge impact [in the Middle East]. Our products can be installed and running within a few days, as compared to laying new copper or fibre in the ground which could take years,” added Drew Darby, director of International Sales for Wave Wireless.
||**||Benefits for road warriors|~||~||~|The major benefit of access to the Internet and email via a wired network for businesses was to allow ‘road warriors’ to connect to a LAN in a hotel, Internet café or at home; but what if a simple PC card could allow mobile users to connect wherever they are without wires. Moving through an airport, between buildings, in a taxi, the possibilities are endless for those that are out of the office.

Cisco for example, has just announced its ‘Cisco Internet Mobile Office’ (CIMO), which is specifically designed to target ‘hot spots’ such as airports, airline lounges, hotels and conference centres, where business travellers access corporate intranets through wireless broadband Internet connections. “The Middle East would be a perfect market for the CIMO due to the amount of business people travelling constantly throughout the region,” says Ian Milne, manager of Product Marketing for Cisco EMEA.

In the home or office however, is where the largest possibilities exist for the advocation of a wireless network. How many times has there been, when a managing director has asked for a network that connects all users, some of them in impossible places that has made it a nightmare task to get cables to? Or how many times has it been that a network infrastructure has had to redone because the conference room now has to be connected and it wasn’t in the original plans? Or how many times has it been that the physical infrastructure of a building has impeded or simply not allowed a wired network to become reality?

“In Egypt for example, we had a reseller that had an old building that needed a network. It was too much to wire, so we used wireless instead,” 3Com’s Walker told CRN.
||**||Better business prospects|~||~||~|A wireless network eliminates all these headaches and gives resellers access to previously unforeseen business. “Broadband fixed wireless solutions will provide the platform that enables resellers to offer customers new revenue streams and, more importantly, to leap well ahead of others in terms of service offerings and customer mind-share,” says Darby.

“Being the first to offer these new services is advantageous in a local-access market,” he added.

But to understand the business benefits, not only for offices, but for home users too, the technology behind the concept has to be understood. It is more than just removing wires from devices.

With devices such as mobile phones, PDAs and laptops, and the rise in Internet applications and e-business, the need for users to access a network regardless of location has become paramount, and wireless technology can fill this need. Originally, wireless LAN (WLAN) technology was used in vertical industries such as retail and manufacturing, mainly for inventory management, but original speeds were as low as 1-2Mbps. As more and more vendors began developing WLAN technologies for broader markets, a standard had to be developed. That standard was the IEEE 802.11. As time has developed, the requirement for ‘faster and cheaper’ has led to the 802.11b standard, the de-facto standard for today’s wireless devices, with a standard rate of 11Mbps.

The 802.11b standard operates on a 2.4Ghz frequency (the same as Bluetooth) using radio frequency (RF) that does not require a license. Infrared is also available, although not commonly used, and is expected to become defunct when Bluetooth finally emerges in the market. Vendors have put a request for a higher standard, IEEE 802.11a forward for wireless, although sources working closely with the technology told CRN that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected the 802.11a standard.

Details concerning the rejection were unavailable at the time of going to press, although one source commented that ‘the FCC may be trying to stop an overlap between 802.11b and 802.11a’.
||**||Simple to connect|~||~||~|To set up a wireless network system, there are very few components required: access points, PCI cards and PC cards. The cards fit into the device that wishes to be connected to the network, and the access points are placed wherever access is required. Access points can even be placed in ceilings or provide a building-to-building bridge, although this is likely to be more effective with 802.11a. Within an office situation, all parts of the office can be connected, easily, and users are free to move around the office without fear of having to find a socket to connect to, or dropping the connection.

According to vendors, setting up a wireless network is very simple and requires very little training, above and beyond understanding what the technology means to a business or home user and knowing how to set the network up itself. “This is all very easy, it can be set up in minutes,” says Walker.

“If you just want one [access point] its very easy; if you want roaming it’s a little more complicated but we have the software to make it easy. There isn’t really any training that’s necessary,” he added.

There is very little maintenance with a wireless network and unlike wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, it offers a much wider range, stretching kilometres, rather than metres.
Of course, allowing this kind of high-speed access opens itself up to security problems, which the vendors insist they are working on.

At the moment 64-bits of encryption is fairly standard, although 128 bits is available (possibly with authorisation from governing bodies). Products on the market at the moment usually include the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) option for 802.11b, and vendors such as Cisco are working on dynamic key sessions for added security measures. “It is not a perfect answer to the problem of security, but overall, the risks are probably the same as a wired network,” stated Milne.
||**||No technology conflicts|~||~||~|One question that is likely to be asked by those interested in adopting any kind of wireless technology is the conflict between other products using the 2.4Ghz, a problem that is most apparent with Bluetooth technology. Vendors insist that using different wireless products that run on the 2.4GHz frequency, whilst they may cause problems as they vie for bandwidth, isn’t that big a deal, and is a problem that all parties are trying to solve. “It is more of a technology problem that most end-users won’t even notice,” says Milne.

Overall, in a region such as the Middle East, where wired networks, especially for small-to-medium businesses are not considered a necessity, a wireless network may encourage adoption, and as a consequence encourage the use of email, Web browsing and e-commerce. For resellers, it is the opportunity to deploy a solution that is easy to install and maintain, as well as present opportunities that a wired network cannot. “Wireless is very easy for resellers to sell, support and provides perfect value-add services such as remote dial-up support,” says Milne.

Wave Wireless’s Darby agrees that resellers are looking at a large profit centre with wireless technology. “As demand for information, entertainment, and communication explodes, a broadband fixed wireless network presents the single best medium for delivering these services reliably, cost-effectively, and profitably,” he says.||**||

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