ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

Reality Check
February 2002

Robert Vahid Hashemian WLAN, The Next Cellular?


Like it or not, WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) has arrived and if you havent been affected by it yet, there is good certainty you will be experiencing it in 2002. At TMCs recent Planet PDA trade show in Las Vegas (www.planetpdaexpo.com), talk of WLANs dominated, sometimes eclipsing PDA itself, which was the given focus of the show. Various keynoters and speakers remarked on the current and future status of WLAN, and while they may have had varying views on this subject, they were in agreement that WLANs and PDAs have a symbiotic relationship. Each technology feeds on the other propelling both forward rapidly. The enthusiasm for WLAN was obvious throughout the show. Many people took advantage of the free 802.11b network coverage courtesy of Venue MaitreD (www.venuemaitred.com) and hooked up their devices to the Internet, browsing Web sites, checking e-mail, and even streaming videos.

Given the rising popularity of WLANs, I started wondering when will we might finally achieve the grail of anytime, anywhere wireless connection. Of course individual WLAN coverage area is still too small compared to cellular networks and one still needs a high-speed copper/fiber line to the Internet to route all the traffic through, but as companies, campuses, and others begin to offer WLANs (some of which will be of the roaming kind), the cellular network will find itself facing a formidable contender not only in the data arena but also in the voice service.

Currently there are several WLAN technologies in the market, the most well known being Bluetooth and 802.11. In the United States, 802.11 has become the predominant wireless technology used for networking. It comprises several different subsets, some of which are still under development. Of those, 802.11b is currently the most popular. Bluetooth, while it can be thought of as a WLAN technology, is more apt for short-distance device-to-device communications (table below).

Technology Bandwidth Frequency Comments
802.11b 11 Mbps 2.4 GHz Currently deployed
802.11a 54 Mbps 5 GHz Upcoming
802.11g 50 Mbps 2.4 GHz Compatible with 802.11b
802.11x     Upcoming -- Security additions
Bluetooth 1.5 Mbps 2.4 GHz Currently deployed

WLAN has begun to chip away at the market share of wireline technologies such as Cable, DSL, and Frame Relay. People within a building can now share one wired connection to the Internet rather than ordering separate circuits. WLAN has also begun to affect many cabling projects within companies. Where once network managers were forced to rework their network lines every so often to support a faster protocol or stay compliant with fire safety rules for network cables, they can now quickly replace the wireless hubs or switches and the wireless cards on the client nodes and be ready to go.

Things however get even more exciting when one considers how WLANs will affect voice communications. Packetized voice still has some ways to go to gain ground on circuit-based voice communications in terms of quality and quantity of usage. There are QoS issues, delays, and jitter problems to work out. Not to mention security issues, firewall blockages, and redundancy plans. But there is no doubt that we have come a long way already. Voice transmission over managed IP networks is as good as (and sometimes better than) circuit-based networks, and we have all witnessed remarkable progress on voice transmission on public networks (i.e., the Internet).

The fact is that most people cant wait to free themselves from their landline telephone services. Several people in our office have actually replaced their regular home phone services with cellular ones. Cellular service is not without its problems. Bad voice quality and frequent drop-outs are frequent. But its worst attribute is that data transmission over cellular networks is a measly 19.2 Kbps. Carriers claim that they will be able to achieve speeds of up to 1 Mbps within the next couple of years. Will they be timely and successful? Will the service coverage be wide? Is 1 Mbps even enough? Id say no. WLANs and PDAs may just give us the best of both worlds: Voice and data; with the quality of wireline and the convenience of wireless.

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is vice president of Web Development and Director for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

[ Return To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]

Today @ TMC
Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas