Wi-Fi -- Man's New Best Friend?
Apr 12, 2010 (The Herald/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --
THE dog has long been regarded as man's best friend for its perceived fidelity to the master, the human being.
This might have led someone to craft the phrase, "as faithful as a dog."
Of course, that might be true for the "old-fashioned" or "traditional" person, who actually might as well think of water when the word "surfing" is mentioned.
In these "techno-savvy" days, various electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, laptops or more recently the so-called iPad, have virtually provided people with new best friends.
And the growth of Internet, and in particular the Wireless Fidelity or Wi-Fi technology which has origins dating back to the '80s, threatens to complete the changeover as it also enables places that would traditionally not have network access to connect, for example bathrooms, kitchens and garden sheds.
This is even true in Zimbabwe where the technology is still but nascent.
According to the online journal technopluto.com. Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that lets digital devices such as PC, laptop, mobile phones connect and access internet through a router without any physical association with the wired network (Local Area Network).
It is said that, "Wireless Fidelity", as such does not mean anything but was actually a branding strategy taking after the 1950's High Fidelity (Hi-fi) catch.
Whether or not the originators phrase really meant nothing apart from being a "catch", the concept has proven to be a great and faithful friend to mostly young people across the country.
In pursuit of free service, people are streaming to various "hotspots" to access the Internet.
Lately, the Africa Unity Square has been teeming with people using free Internet provided by the Harare City Council Publicity Bureau, in association with one Internet service provider, and a number of corporate organisations.
Tafadzwa Foto, an Information Technology student says the proliferation of Wi-Fi Internet by these various players has been a huge blessing.
"As a student, I have found it very useful for my research.
"I need a lot of research time and that becomes very expensive when you have to fork out money on a daily basis at the Internet cafe," he said.
Internet shops in town charge an average of $2 per hour.
Foto regrets the minimal backup power of his laptop, which is about an hour.
Jeremiah Chadakufa of Kuwadzana, who has experienced Wi-Fi since the accountancy company he works for installed the technology last November is full of praises of the innovation.
"It is fast and convenient. The good thing about it is that you can use it on your distance learning phone and your laptop," he said.
The 23-year-old, who is also reading for an accountancy degree with the University of South Africa (Unisa) says wi-fi has helped him correspond with the institution.
"The assignments are sent via e-mail and I can send them freely here," he said.
He revealed that during weekends, or whenever his company's service is interrupted, he always finds his way to Africa Unity Square.
That actually makes the square a "hotspot", literally, for Internet users.
In the technical sense, Wi-Fi hotspots are the access points through which wireless Internet is accessed.
These include universities, colleges, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and food joints, among other institutions offering free hotspots within their premises as a mode of attraction.
On the other hand, what has been seen as people stream to various Wi-Fi hotspots is known as "piggybacking" as people access wireless Internet connection by bringing one's own computer within the range of another's wireless connection, and using that service without the subscriber's explicit permission or knowledge.
It has been made possible as computer operating systems may be configured to automatically connect to any available wireless network, making piggybacking sometimes unintentional but beneficial as a strange network might actually be stronger than the one intended by the user.
Estimates are that Wi-Fi operates in more than 220 000 public hotspots and in tens of millions of homes and corporate and university campuses worldwide.
Zimbabwe Online (Zol) Marketing Executive David Behr says his company has by far the largest Wi-Fi network in Zimbabwe.
"We were also the first. Our hotspots are called ZOLspots in order to differentiate ourselves with our quality and reach," he says adding that there are 60 ZOLspots in total and 50 are in Harare."We have ZOLspots in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Ruwa.
"We are now looking at installing them in under-served areas," he adds.
Companies can provide Wi-Fi within and in the vicinity of their premises.
Authorities say Wi-Fi networks are very limited in range.
A typical Wi-Fi router might have a range of 30 metres indoor and 90 metres outdoors.
Range also varies with selected frequency band.
Wi-Fi in the 2,4 GHz frequency band has slightly better range than Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz frequency band, says technopluto.com.
In setting up Wi-Fi connections, one needs Wireless adapter at user's end (within the laptop or PC) and a externally placed router.
Most of new laptops and desktop computers come with built-in wireless adapter.
Some routers incorporate a digital subscriber line modem or a cable modem and a Wi-Fi access point, set up in homes and other premises, providing Internet-access and Internet working to all devices connected wirelessly or by cable to them.
Wi-Fi applications in "ad-hoc" mode for client-to-client connections or multi-player handheld game consoles, such as the Nintendo DS, digital cameras, and other consumer electronics devices, could do without a router.
Wi-Fi, which also allows wireless voice-applications, is being provided subject to the laws of the country.
Engineer Charles Sibanda, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Director General, says there are two licences that are currently making it possible for people to get Wi-Fi.
These are the Internet Access Provider licences "A" and "B" whereby the first allows for bandwidth voice-over-internet protocol and the other provides bandwidth without VOIP.
Currently, Eng Sibanda said, there were about 13 Internet service provider licensees providing wireless Internet and the Wi-Fi technology is a welcome development.
"There is quick access and deployment," he said.
Eng Sibanda believes the rise in companies and institutions with wireless Internet has been a result the stabilisation of the economy as the use of the US dollar has allowed companies to pay for technologies.
But he sounded concern that use of free Internet services could come at a price.
"When one uses these services and logs on their personal details, they are at a security risk as they might fall prey to hackers," he said.
Many people who spoke to The Herald expressed ignorance of the security threat, which they were willing to sacrifice, anyway for the free service.
The scare is even to those who have home and business Wi-Fi, but do not adequately secure their location, sometimes on the misguided premise that they will be doing the community a favour.
According to one article, some people can surf unsavoury content from your unique, traceable Internet location -- and slow your Internet performance down at the same time.
Those whose wireless systems can be penetrated are exposed to other serious threats such as implantation of malicious programmes, including spyware, and adware directly onto a computer.
This could open the door to more serious problems such as online fraud or even identity theft, the article said.
Some of the disadvantages of Wi-Fi relate to its geographical range, which is generally limited even with the use of satellite dish modifications for long range communication.
This modification increases Wi-Fi range two-fold.
At any rate, local regulations, including in Zimbabwe, set maximum extent for Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is said to be power-intensive compared to other standards such as Bluetooth, although it has a better range and data rate than the latter.
According to wikipedia, another Wi-Fi setback is that of "pollution".
This is an excessive number of access points in the area, especially on the same or neighbouring channel, which can prevent access and interfere with other devices' use of other access points.
Wi-Fi pollution is caused by overlapping channels within a certain spectrum, as well as with decreased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between access points.
"This can become a problem in high-density areas, such as large apartment complexes or office buildings with many Wi-Fi access points.
"Additionally, other devices use the 2,4 GHz band: microwave ovens, security cameras, ZigBee devices, Bluetooth devices and (in some countries) Amateur radio, video senders, cordless phones and baby monitors, all of which can cause significant additional interference. It is also an issue when municipalities or other large entities (such as universities) seek to provide large area coverage," the journal says.
However, the advantages of Wi-Fi wireless systems remain significant.
It is relatively cheap in deployment and expansion and applicable in areas where cables cannot be run, such as outdoor areas and historical buildings.
There is compatibility among a range of products that are "Wi-Fi Certified" by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which operates a set of standards, thus working anywhere in the world.
After all is said and done, Wi-Fi itself is not the best thing, in terms of wireless systems.
Technologies such as Wi-Max can better Wi-Fi by extending to longer distances of up to 48 kilometres.
It also offers more ubiquity and actually provides a backbone for Wi-Fi hotspots.
All this promises to mount a challenge on cellular phones as a means of communication.
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