Wireless Networking

This is where radio-based communications enable computers and other devices to connect without the need for wires. The technologies themselves are based on wireless transmitters and receivers of digital data, and can be used to replace wires in corporate and home-based environments.

Here we talk about what wireless networking technologies exist – the current leading place technologies are Wireless Ethernet and Bluetooth. We look at the benefits of wireless networking such as flexibility and manageability, and we cover how a wireless infrastructure extends rather than replaces a wired LAN. Looking into the future, we consider HiperLAN 2 and the predicted convergence of wireless networking with the Mobile Internet.

What is Wireless Networking?

In the simplest terms, a traditional, “wired” computer network (or Local Area Network, LAN) can be seen as a number of boxes joined together by wires. Often the positions of those boxes are dictated by the constraints imposed by the wires. When most people talk about wireless networks in the corporate environment, they usually mean wireless Ethernet. This does what it says on the tin – it takes the ubiquitous LAN protocol Ethernet, and extends it to wire-free environments. Wireless Ethernet supports data speeds of 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and 11 Mbps – to put this into perspective, traditional Ethernet could handle 10Mbps and many networks being deployed today support 100Mbps.

The second high-profile wireless protocol is Bluetooth, designed to replace the wires between devices and peripherals (say, a computer and a printer, or a laptop and a mobile phone). Bluetooth is often compared to the InfraRed standard IrDA, which it is probably going to replace. Unless you have very specific requirements, these two protocols should cater for your needs hence we shall concentrate on them here.

The Business Benefits of Wireless Networks

The key benefit of wireless networking is flexibility: in the box-wire scenario above, if you take away the wires, you can be more flexible about how you locate the boxes. Hence:

* Hot-desking environments (in which desk space is allocated on a first-come-first-served basis) can be built, configured and modified cheaply and simply.
* Office facilities can be allocated and moved as user needs dictate, for example to cater for department reorganisations.
* Users can access applications from wherever they are on the site, and even on the move – opening up possibilities environments such as warehouses.

It is difficult to find a report that concentrates on Bluetooth from a corporate perspective. This may be for a couple of reasons – the first is that no one is really sure of what the tangible benefits will be so it is the intangibles that are focused on. The second is that the business benefits are irrelevant to the manufacturers, which are equipping devices with Bluetooth whether the end-users want it or not. Time will tell.

Deploying Wireless Networks in the Corporate Environment

In most circumstances, wireless extensions will be added to an existing, wired LAN.

Issues with Wireless Networks

The main issues with current wireless networking technologies are as follows:

* Wireless Ethernet, which is touted to deliver either 2Mbps or 11Mbps over a 30-metre indoor range, in reality delivers less than the maximum depending on the number of simultaneous users, the distance from the transmitter and any obstacles that may be in the way.
* Wireless Ethernet devices have interoperability problems, that is devices from different manufacturers are not working properly together – hence the need for the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance.
* One of the prime protocols –Bluetooth – interferes with wireless Ethernet and with itself.
* There are also question marks over the security of wireless networks, with both eavesdropping and hacking being major concerns.

The Future of Wireless Networking

HiperLAN 2 is a standard defined for “next generation” wireless LAN environments, and is capable of supporting theoretical data speeds of 54Mbps. Much industry support is rallying behind HiperLAN 2. Note that HiperLAN 2 also promises interoperability with the 3G protocol UMTS, which we discuss in out Mobile Internet section. It may be that, in the future, this differentiation disappears as the technologies converge with each other (and, potentially, with “wired” technologies). For the moment they remain poles apart.

As for Bluetooth, as chipsets for this protocol are currently being incorporated into many devices, it looks set to carve itself a niche in the future.

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