Gaining momentum

Wi-Fi technology has seen its annual unit sales grow to more than 100 million chipsets in six years. More than 120 million Wi-Fi chipsets were shipped in 2005, according to data released by In-Stat and the Wi-Fi Alliance. “The explosive 64% average yearly growth rate reflects the transforming nature of Wi-Fi and the value of interoperable, standards-based technology,” says Gemma Tedesco, senior analyst at In-Stat.

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By  Angela Sutherland Published  May 14, 2006

|~|wi-fli-Demonstration-websit.jpg|~|Etihad and Etisalat executives showcase the "Wi--Fli" technology adopted by the airline. |~|Wi-Fi technology has seen its annual unit sales grow to more than 100 million chipsets in six years. More than 120 million Wi-Fi chipsets were shipped in 2005, according to data released by In-Stat and the Wi-Fi Alliance. “The explosive 64% average yearly growth rate reflects the transforming nature of Wi-Fi and the value of interoperable, standards-based technology,” says Gemma Tedesco, senior analyst at In-Stat. Wi-Fi Alliance managing director Frank Hanzlik says the technology has spread dramatically in recent years, and Wi-Fi is now in more than 100 thousand hotspots worldwide. “It is not surprising to see that people like to be connected when they travel,” says Hanzlik. “Today more than 90% of notebook computers are Wi-Fi enabled, and as we look ahead, there are seemingly limitless opportunities, due to the insatiable enterprise demand for the technology.” However, IDC’s Worldwide Hotspot Forecast, 2002-2007, has a slightly different story. It says despite the rapid growth in both the number of Wi-Fi locations and the number of users worldwide, the hotspot market is still in the early stages of development. The report states it is imperative to remember that this market is still exceptionally young and rife with uncertainty. Most business models are not yet proven, or even solidified, and the competitive landscape is still unclear. The hard work needed to achieve Wi-Fi’s promise still lies ahead. The analyst firm expects the hotspot market to evolve through two distinct phases – two years of massive network footprint expansion followed by three years of intense relationship building among carriers, network operators, and service providers. It says the first phase will be characterised by dramatic growth in both the number of hotspots and hotspot users. Over the next five years, IDC projects the worldwide number of available commercial hotspots to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 57% while the number of worldwide hotspot users will approach 25 million. One consequence of a rapid build-out is that many public access points (APs) will be underutilised because they were not deployed in a thoughtful manner. This will be further complicated by the evolution of usage patterns, pricing tolerances, and service expectations among users. In the second phase, network roaming relationships and network partnerships will become an essential ingredient for long-term success as providers seek to fill holes in their footprints and expand network utilisation. This phase will be increasingly influenced by the weight that wireline and wireless carriers bring to the market as they seek to offer Wi-Fi as a low-cost extension of their existing services. Furthermore, a new survey carried out by Toshiba states Wi-Fi usage has still a long way to go before it really catches on in the UK. The survey reveals that UK end users are still wary of flicking the Wi-Fi switches on their laptops. Despite the UK virtually buzzing with wireless hotspots, with over 10,000 Wi-Fi locations scattered around the country, take-up remains low. According to Toshiba's study, 23% of users with suitably equipped notebooks say they do not use wireless technology because they do not want to pay for access time, 19% cite security concerns for avoiding Wi-Fi while a further 19% had a more pragmatic answer: they simply did not know how to use the wireless functions of their notebook. However, Wi-Fi is gaining momentum in the Middle East. The region is ranked as the fastest growing wireless market in the world. Due to its lack of infrastructure, enterprises in the region are attracted to wireless technologies. Wi-Fi may have started out as the technology for business travelers who needed an easy way to go online while on the road, however, businesses are using Wi-Fi to replace costly wires or provide connectivity in hard-to-reach places. Take the BurJuman shopping mall for instance; elite shopping experience is not the only thing on offer for buyers at the mall. It also has a Wi-Fi network. The Al Ghurair Group of Companies, which owns BurJuman, has deployed the network so that shoppers can receive up-to-the minute information on stores and services within the mall directly to their cell phones, PDA’s or notebooks. “BurJuman continued to introduce pioneering concepts and services for shoppers and the new Wi-Fi service is yet another example of the shopping mall ensuring that customers get the best out of their visit to the mall,” says Eisa Adam Ibrahim, general manager of BurJuman. “The whole idea is to provide a shopping experience that is easy and fun,” he adds. BurJuman is expecting a strong customer response for the service. Ibrahim says as more and more cell phones and PDAs become Wi-Fi enabled, visitors will expect to stay connected and updated during their visit to the mall. Hatem Alsibai, CIO for BurJuman parent, Al Ghurair Group of Companies, says the time had come for the company to invest in the new technology. He says shoppers of today are extremely technology savvy and they like shopping in an environment, which enhances their retail experience. “Wi-Fi technology (802.11B/G) has been around for a while now. It is mature, supported and proven wireless technology that can deliver data and multi-media services such as audio and video. Besides its good bandwidth, Wi-Fi coverage can be designed to provide concise and accurate coverage without transmission leaks outside the premises,” explains Alsibai. This is a first-of-its-kind deployment, says US-based Kosmo Systems, which was responsible for setting up the system. “The new Wi-Fi channel enriches the shopping experience by making numerous services accessible and keeping the shopper informed of current events and promotions,” he adds. “This is the most important return-on-investment (ROI) for BurJuman.” Richard Mayberry, managing director of Kosmo Systems, says shopping trends in the UAE indicate that mobiles phones and PDAs assist individuals with their shopping. Currently only 12% of BurJuman shoppers own a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone, however, Mayberry says with so many new Wi-Fi phones entering the regional market over the next few months, that number would exceed 50% of all shoppers one year from now. “We are trying to accommodate the maximum number of phone systems and form factors,” says Mayberry. Furthermore, Wi-Fi is making its way to the skies. Etihad Airways has just launched its “Wi-Fli” service in partnership with Connexion by Boeing and Etisalat. The new service allows business travellers to remain connected to their offices through a secure encrypted virtual private network (VPN). “Etihad Airways is offering its guests the latest in technology and customer service. The new capabilities are another milestone in in-flight technology,” says Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Bin Saif Al Nahyan, Chairman of Etihad Airways. Ahmad Abdul Karim Julfar, COO of Etisalat, says internet subscribers can log on to the internet with their existing Etisalat Dial Up/Al Shamil username and password. End users can be billed in their regular monthly internet bill. Passengers can access the internet anywhere in the aircraft with their laptop and web camera for video conversations. “Etisalat has always been at the forefront in terms of providing customers with innovative services and this in-flight broadband internet service is a case in point. The service extends the reach and convenience of broadband to our subscribers by allowing them to access the internet and payment through Etisalat while they travel on flights anywhere in the world,” he adds. Bahrain-based Ramada Hotel is another enterprise taking advantage of Wi-Fi. In 2005, the hotel in partnership with US Robotics and its value added reseller Primesys, deployed a range of wireless solutions. Sumit Kumar, regional manager, Middle East and North Africa for US Robotics, says the wireless system will deliver significant benefits to the hotel and its guests. “The wireless solutions will create an unparalleled Wi-Fi experience and this is the driving force behind Ramada's decision to opt for our Wi-Fi system. The move will enable the hotel to significantly reduce communication, infrastructure and management costs, while expanding management capabilities," Kumar explains. Beirut International Airport, which provides hotspots for travellers, says Wi-Fi has made unprecedented deployment progress in recent years. Increasingly, wireless-enabled laptops have become the end-user computing platform of choice, particularly among people who travel frequently for work. Wireless computing and mobilisation simplify the tasks and virtually create more hours in the day. The service provides 15 kiosks with internet access distributed throughout the different departure gates of the airport, 2 additional kiosks in the arrival area, and a hotspot access that covers the departure and arrival hall as well as the VIP lounges. DigitalSkys, which provides Wi-Fi products, says the Middle East has a tremendous potential for Wi-Fi because of the lack of infrastructure required to deliver broadband services. The vendor says traditional infrastructure is costly and Wi-Fi can help organisations save money and get efficient communication. “Free wireless networks are considered these days to be the future of the internet. The Middle East will follow the model of Europe or US, where municipalities have already started to develop and expand free Wi-Fi networks throughout the cities. Universities in the region already provide free Wi-Fi internet access on the campuses to their students and visitors,” says Charles D’Alberto, CEO of DigitalSkys. “Wi-Fi has many advantages, allowing networks to be deployed without cables, reducing the costs of network deployment and expansion,” he adds. Security and power consumption are two major factors impacting the uptake of Wi-Fi. Every time end users log on to a public Wi-Fi AP, they are transmitting their login name and password over open airwaves, and often a credit card number as well. In addition, the first generation of wireless chips used so much power that a notebook’s battery life was reduced to half, sometimes even more if the signal strength was weak. This pushed early wireless into the more industrial applications like supermarket bar-coding readers. Subsequent development of more efficient wireless chips such as Intel’s Centrino technology means that Wi-Fi power drain is not an issue. As for the security, since the standard for wireless emerged from the LAN (local area network) sector any wireless device has the ability to join a wireless network without the end user’s knowledge and easily infiltrate the network. Enterprises often struggle with putting in additional security measures or starting again from scratch to close potential vulnerabilities on their networks. In addition, changing industry security standards, the incompatibility between networking products from different sources and the growing number of different devices end users want to link to their wireless systems daunt less technology-savvy owners. Industry experts claim as a result, getting buinesses to use the security capabilities already on their networks is a struggle. However, vendors are working toward rectifying this problem. Cisco is working with several vendors, so that enterprises can deploy highly secure clients that are interoperable and capable of supporting advanced features required for voice. The networking giant has teamed up with Intel, Nokia, Research In Motion (RIM) and other technology leaders to drive enterprise adoption of voice-ready secure wireless networks. Building upon the growth of voice-over-IP (VoIP), and Wi-Fi networks, the networking giant says its voice-ready wireless capabilities create the foundation for enterprises that want to capitalise on these converging technologies and make voice over Wi-Fi a business reality. "The allure of streamlined voice-intensive business processes in the enterprise shifts the case for IP voice from 'It costs less' to 'It's better'," says Abner Germanow, research director at IDC. "Meanwhile, new wireless investments are delivering connectivity to mobile workers. The end result will be a new class of mobility applications as voice and wireless collide," he adds. Voice-ready wireless is an end-to-end solutions approach that addresses the convergence of VoIP and wireless networks, and allows enterprises to flexibly extend the mobility benefits of wireless networks to their voice communications. Critical to this solution are client devices with fully integrated advanced wireless LAN capabilities to ensure optimal performance. DigitalSky’s D’Alberto says although security is a key concern for deployment of Wi-Fi within private enterprise networks, vendors are addressing the issue by increasing developments in fire-walling and the use of use of military spec inscription, such as 3AES and FIPS. Thanks to the growing popularity of wireless LANs, vendors are quickly developing a wide array of products that can use Wi-Fi networks for voice as well as data communications. Furthermore, vendors like Netgear provide wireless solutions that adhere to Wi-FI protected access (WPA), which was introduced in 2003. To run WPA between two computers both must have WPA software, and all APs and wireless adapters between them, as well. WPA has two significant advantages. It has an encryption key differing in every packet. The temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP) mechanism shares a starting key between devices. Each device then changes the encryption key for every packet. It is extremely difficult for hackers to read messages — even if they have intercepted the data. Certificate authentication (CA) can be used, blocking a hacker's access posing as a valid user. A Certificate Authority Server is part of the recommended configuration, providing strong wireless security for the 2003 computing environment. When it comes to data encryption, currently, the industry does not have many viable options for wireless encryption. The wired equivalent privacy (WEP protocol), previously the standard for wireless encryption, is only useful as a means of thwarting casual eavesdropping on a wireless connection. It does not prevent the actions of a determined attacker. “It is a major misconception in wireless technology that the security battle can be won by technology alone. Even with well deployed WLAN security systems, rogue APs can compromise network security. An employee could go to a shop, buy a wireless AP, connect it under his desk and [gain access] to the company network from outside,” says Werner Heeren, regional sales and marketing director for Fluke Networks Eastern Europe and MEA. “The only remedy against this is enforcing security policies by means of periodic monitoring. Encryption and authentication are important. WPA2 is currently the best available encryption,” he adds. ||**||

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