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
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).
-- Security additions
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
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 email@example.com.
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