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Wireless Wonders

You can walk around from one conference room to another, armed with just your lap-top and yet make complicated presentations. You can work from the cafeteria or from any corner of your campus, and not trip over cables or hunt for sockets. You can thank a wireless LAN for this accomplishment. A wireless local area network (WLAN) is just what its name suggests - a LAN which can stay connected without snaking cables or nailed sockets. Biswadip 'Bobby' Mitra, MD, Texas Instruments India, speaks to Sofia Tippoo and tells her that WLAN is slated to be the next killer application in wireless space

Q. What are the benefits of wireless LAN for corporates ?

A. With wireless LANs users can access shared information without looking for a place to plug in. Network managers can set up or augment networks without installing or moving wires, enabling wireless offices. WLANs provide mobility and real-time information anywhere in an organisation. Installation is fast and easy- you can eliminate the need to pull cable through walls and ceilings.

While the initial investment required for WLAN hardware can be higher than the cost of wired LAN hardware, overall installation expenses and life-cycle costs can be significantly lower.

WLANs frequently augment rather than replace wired LAN networks, often providing the final few metres of connectivity between a wired network and the mobile user.

Q. How does it benefit the home user?

A. It can make home connectivity without wires- between multiple PCs, handhelds and other electrical appliances. Also, it lets multiple equipments share the broaband network coming into the home. This would enable multiple simultaneous access to the Internet. Also, if Voice over IP gets enabled, then one can have multiple cordless phones in the house with no individual base stations.

Doctors and nurses in hospitals will be more productive because hand-held or notebook computers with WLAN capability will deliver patient information instantly. Consulting or accounting audit teams or small work group increases productivity with quick network setup because you just need a few notebooks with WLAN cards to get a wireless network up and running. Training sites at corporations and students at universities also use wireless connectivity to ease access to information, information exchanges, and learning.

Q. Can laptops, phone and handheld computer be connected with the WLAN?

A. Yes. In the next two to three years the average worker will use at least three devices on the job- a notebook computer, a mobile and a palmtop. These will not only need to be outfitted with wireless capability, but integrated with existing IT infrastructures to take advantage of enterprise applications already in place.

Q. What is the market size for WLAN?

A. The size of the WLAN which was comparatively small at $800 million in 1999, is forecast to swell to $2.7 billion by 2003, according to market researchers. In Asia Pacific alone the market is set to cross $164 million by 2002.

Q. Despite being around for four years, why has WLAN not become popular?

A. The WLAN standard itself has been evolving slowly along with the technology. In its initial version, for example, the 802.11b had three flavours of PHY supported: the IR (Infrared), FHSS (Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum) and DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum). The IR has some usage as line of sight is important (such as in the TV remote control device). The shakeout between FHSS and DSSS winning out with its higher bandwidth. FHSS gives about 2 Megabites per second whereas DSSS gives about 22 Mbps, FHSS and DSSS are not interoperable and hence customers were waiting to see which wins, prior to making large investments.

Q. Are companies investing in WLAN?

A. With the standards now geeting firmer and clearer, manufacturers are now freely putting in the investments and resources, while customers are buying these without worrying about obsolescence. Apart from this, cost is another issue. Only recently has the technology matured, allowing the costs to come down. One can buy a 802.11b card for laptops at about $150-$250 today. Once this comes down further, we will see wider usage.

Q. Why the sudden spurt in this technology?

A. The sudden popularity of the Internet with increasingly rich content is making people access it on the move. With notebooks becoming more popular, the WLAN space is really expanding. And, companies like Cisco, 3Com, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Symbol Technologies, Intermec, Proxim in addition to a large number of start-ups worldwide are putting their efforts in this space.

Q. How do you see the possibility of penetration of this technology in India?

A. We are looking at Wireless Planning Commission (WPC) in India to give the clearance for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands which will fuel the demand in India. But even right now, there are a number of companies, including Cisco, 3Com, Nortel Network, Lucent Technologies and Enterasys that are marketing it here.

Q. How does a Wireless LAN work?

A. Wireless LANs use electromagnetic airwaves (radio or infrared) to communicate information from one point to another without point to another without relying on any physical connection. Most wireless LAN systems use RF (radio frequency) because radio waves can penetrate most indoor walls and obstacles. In a typical wireless LAN configuration, a transmitter/ receiver or transceiver device, called an access point, connects to the wired network from a fixed location using standard cabling. At a minimum, the access point receives buffers, and transmits data between the wireless LAN and the wired network infrastructure. A single access point can support a small group of users and can function within a range of less than one hundred to several hundred feet. The access point or the antenna attached to the access point is usually mounted high but may be mounted essentially anywhere that is practical as long as the desired radio coverage is obtained. End users access the wireless LAN through wireless-LAN adapters, which are implemented as PC cards in notebook or palmtop computers, as cards in desktop computers, or integrated within handheld computers.

Courtesy: The Times of India
Date: 14th August 

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