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Australian perspective on cost and deployment of 802.11b: overview of hardware, some good ancedotes, analysis of cost drops.
Analysis of market potential for 5 GHz band device: the 5 GHz band should open up worldwide in the next year allowing 802.11a and other standards to run at higher speeds - although over shorter distances - making the technology more appropriate for enterprise operations, rather than just personal computers.
Small businesses warming to WiFi: a concise and smart article on the increasing use of WiFi by small businesses to increase flexibility, reduce cost, and make themselves more mobile.
The spate of news about WiFi has slowed down lately, but expect more announcements and innovations as we head into the summer.
The New York Times Magazine ran an article about being connected by James Gleick which mentioned WiFi in passing:
If you install a small base station somewhere on your home network, you can carry laptops from room to room, basement to kitchen counter, and never go off line. By the end of this year, thousands of hotels, airport lounges and coffee shops will be filling their airspace with this same invisible radiation field: information and connectivity all around. Microsoft and Starbucks are teaming up to deploy it. One can imagine grocery stores and department stores beaming real-time information to their gadget-toting customers. One can even imagine properly functional motor-vehicles offices and polling places.
One proviso, which I mentioned via email to the author: MobileStar is installing the wireless network into Starbucks at their own expense. Starbucks is essentially giving them free access to install a corporate network for the company as well as offer wireless service to their customers. Microsoft's involvement appears to be limited to offering a customized, localized home page with free information to customers who access the MobileStar network from a Starbucks outlet without having a MobileStar account.
Part 2 of an article on using wireless networking cards with FreeBSD: for some reason, the author talks about WaveLAN cards; the WaveLAN brand was bought by Lucent, changed to Orinoco, and then spun off with its Agere Systems offering recently
Leading wireless networking analyst predicts continued strong growth in unit shipments: revenue per unit will drop as price-cutting and competition increases, but Gemma Paolo of the Cahners InStat Group extrapolates a continued strong trend of adoption of WiFi equipment. The group sells a report with massive amounts of detailed information for $3,500, but don't let that distract you from their history of good analysis and prediction in this area.
More detail on MobileStar's national deployment plans from EE Times: this article explains in greater detail how MobileStar will proceed.
Yes, MobileStar will deploy DS and FH: this is the first published report I've seen in which MobileStar apparently confirms their plans to install both 802.11b (which is DS or direct sequence) and some form of frequency hopping (OpenAir or HomeRF).
Updates to Cheap Home Gateways: the article on inexpensive WiFi gateways for home networks has been updated, and now sports eleven devices at $330 or less, with eight under $300. The options are staggering.
Asante announces wireless option for their residential gateway: Asante previewed at the Seybold trade show this week their new WiFi option for their home gateway. The Asante gateway should retail for $320, and features two 10/100 Mbps switched LAN ports, a parallel printer connection, and print spooler. Additional details to follow later this month.
ISP News reports on MobileStar's deployment plans for public space WiFi: MobileStar offers public access to a WiFi network for a fee in hundreds of U.S. locations. They signed a contract in early January 2001 with Starbucks to add wireless access to several thousand of the coffeeshop's U.S. outlets over the next two years. MobileStar's CEO and other executives left the firm within weeks of the Starbucks deal; no explanation was offered for the departures by the company or the executives I spoke with. However, the news this week that MobileStar contracted with IBM to handle the wiring and installation of their network puts deployment back on track. The article is unclear on whether the company will continue to roll out both WiFi and OpenAir (a HomeRF-compatible protocol for HomeRF's lower speed); it implies it will. In article I prepared for a publication a few weeks ago, the company declined comment through a spokesperson about their plans regarding HomeRF.
Sprint offers 2.4 Mbps cell phone: Sprint claims to have successfully tested a cell phone that can transmit 2.4 Mbps using 3G (third generation) cellular technology. I'm curious to get the details, as the laws of physics demand a rapid dropoff in power (and thus signal to noise ratios) as you move further away from a transmitter. At 1000 feet you should be able to send considerably less data than at 500 feet. And Sprint can't be planning to build nano-cells.
Intersil puts 802.11b on a single chip for about $16 each: Intersil, the major supplier of chips to enable WiFi for most vendors of equipment, announced on 4/11 that not only do they have a single chip that fulfills the entire wireless LAN function, but that in quantity, they will cost under US$16. This is a critical point to watch. Bluetooth equipment vendors have cited $5 as the price point for that product's chipsets to make it ubiquitous. Some market watchers have noted that if WiFi chipsets fell into that range, that WiFi could replace Bluetooth in a number of scenarios. Watch this trend.
Now broadcasting from the top of the Sears Tower: if you live in line of sight of the Sears Tower in Chicago, and within about 35 miles, you can get broadband speeds from Sprint Broadband Direct. James Coates's column, linked above, notes that Sprint has a bundle to tie it in with a WiFi system in the home to make the whole shebang wireless.
Proposal approved for Bluetooth/802.11b co-existence: this proposal allows Bluetooth and 802.11b to use avoidance techniques to reduce signal conflict and thus throughput. The 802.15 work group has a Task Group 2 (thus 802.15.2) which has focused on Personal Area Networks (PAN) and 802.11b co-existence. The specific proposals involved are 01/164r0 (PowerPoint) from Symbol and Mobilian, and 01/079r1 (PowerPoint) from NIST; the original documents were 00/360r0 (PowerPoint) and 01/025r0 (PowerPoint). (Download free PowerPoint Viewer.)
Truly brilliant analysis of 802.11b's current and future market: This article nails 802.11b on several scores, including its current potential, and its possible effect on 3G cellular. It also mentions Intersil, the chip maker that manufactures the vast majority of 802.11b chipsets that vendors use in their products. This quote sums it up quite well:
....on the one hand, you have the wireless carriers spending billions and billions to build out a mediocre high-speed data network that no one is really sure is in demand. On the other, you have cheap, grass-roots technology that already is solving wireless networking problems that real people have, using open standards and free spectrum.The author also mentions some news: Intersil is teaming up with another firm to offer 802.11b in a Compact Flash card. Compact Flash is used in digital cameras, handheld PDAs, electronic appliances, and other devices.
Intersil's director of strategic marketing pumps WiFi: hardly unbiased opinion, but he succinctly states the reasons for 802.11b's current rapid penetration. The opposing view from the HomeRF group is also food for thought. But, even better: watch the two duke it out in public forums on the Network World Fusion site. The HomeRF rep: "Your article was riddled with false and misleading statements." The Intersil director: "Let me point out that your article is typical of HomeRF; long on promises and assertions, but short on facts."
WiFi's WEP security is swiss cheese: yes, we all know that, but it wasn't designed to be a secure standard for data, merely to make it more than moderately hard to intercept. True, they could have designed it slightly better, and future versions will address obvious weaknesses. But use SSH, SSL, and VPNs to defeat interception. (More on those standards and systems later.)
Home networking market nearly $300 million in revenue in 2000: increases due to a large upswing in home wireless sales primarily by Lucent's (now Agere's) Orinoco division and Proxim.
Faster 802.11 specs in pipeline: two faster 802.11-based specs are getting nearer to deployment. 802.11g is one alternative, using the 2.4 GHz space that 802.11b enjoys, but offers up to 22 Mbps in raw bandwidth. 802.11a, in discussion for quite a while, shifts to a 5 GHz band, but would offer over 50 Mbps. However, a device broadcasting in the 5 GHz band cannot send signals nearly as far because of regulations limiting power output.
Filed 4/10/01 by Glenn Fleishman
The HomeRF wireless networking standard's new, faster 2.0 version took a body blow in March when the Intel Corporation confirmed its decision to incorporate a competing high-speed system, called IEEE 802.11b or WiFi, into future releases of its AnyPoint consumer product line. This faster version is still slated to appear in products from Proxim, Motorola, and Siemens starting this summer.
"With today's business climate, we felt we could not support two competing standards in the high-speed wireless networking space," Said Intel spokesperson Tom Potts. Potts added Intel will continue to support the earlier version of HomeRF in its existing product line.
Adding to concerns, Microsoft confirmed that it would not offer direct support for HomeRF in its next-generation consumer operating system, Windows XP, in an interview with EE Times magazine.
WiFi, by contrast, has been widely adopted by corporate, home, and mobile users since its consumer introduction in mid-1999 by Apple Computer, Inc., and subsequent drop in cost throughout 2000.
Greg Collins, who tracks wireless infrastructure for research firm Dell'Oro Group, estimates fourth quarter 2000 sales of 802.11b equipment at $200 million. Cards for computers and hubs for managing networks range from $100 to several thousand dollars each.
But HomeRF may not be down for the count, as manufacturers behind the standard are quick to point out, because of HomeRF's currently unique ability to integrate voice and data into a single home network. HomeRF equipment manufacturers describe a home network with users listening to audio, talking on wireless handsets, and transferring files without interruption or interference. They also are aiming their products at broadband providers who bundle services, rather than at individual consumers.
Both 802.11b (also known as WiFi) and HomeRF use short-range, low-power radios to send and receive data over the unlicensed 2.4 gigahertz band, often relaying through a central hub with a better antenna. WiFi operates at 11 megabits per second (Mbps), while HomeRF's revised version will send and receive at 10 Mbps. A HomeRF 3.0 specification due in 2002, will work at up to 22 Mbps.
WiFi, however, is designed as an extension of Ethernet local area network (LAN) technology found in virtually all offices and home networks, while HomeRF was designed to carry a mix of voice, streaming audio and video, and pure data, with voice data given priority to avoid audio dropouts and delays.
This interests broadband providers, such as cable and telephone carriers, who want to provide a variety of voice and multimedia to consumers through a single fat connection, while also becoming their route to the Internet.
Motorola Broadband manufactures gateways that it supplies to broadband vendors, and, according to Vince Izzo, director of home networking, "We believe HomeRF is the right technology, built from the ground up" for integrating those different data needs.
Izzo said that Motorola plans to introduce a broad range of gateways for broadband service providers starting in summer 2001 that will incorporate HomeRF networking, including set-top cable boxes, high-speed cable modems, telephone hubs, and residential gateways designed to share Internet access among a number of computers and peripherals.
The broadband providers have substantial motivation to find the right solution because of people's sensitivity to reliability and variation in voice quality, said Ken Haase, general chairman of HomeRF Working Group, Inc., the association behind the standard.
Haase cited AT&T's cable purchase as an example, noting that "the last thing they want to see happen with their $100 billion investment in TCI, is when they provide voice all the way down to the house, is to see the telephony piece of their investment minimized in the last 100 feet." Haase maintained that "HomeRF is the only solution to deliver total quality voice throughout the home."
"The question is: Can HomeRF become the preferred offering for those service providers?" asked Schelley Olhava, a senior analyst tracking emerging consumer technology at research firm IDC. She pointed out that the cost of the equipment might prove too high for the providers to subsidize. "It's one thing to subsidize the cost of a modem," she said, but HomeRF-based gateways and user devices might costs several hundred dollars per home.
Collins, referring to a method of encapsulating voice data inside of Internet traffic, said, "Over time, the 802.11b folks will solve the voice-over-IP issue because there's so much at stake." Because of this, he said, "We think ultimately 802.11b is better positioned at this point than HomeRF for home users."
Public space networking, in which users connect to wireless networks in airport terminals, hotels, and coffee shops, are primarily based on WiFi. The one national provider offering support of OpenAir, a standard compatible with the slower HomeRF specification, declined a request for comment on continued support for HomeRF through their spokesperson.
The future of HomeRF in light of Intel's decision to use WiFi in its home networking products: discusses how HomeRF, supported by a number of major firms, has gradually seen its manufacturer support erode as WiFi has built market share and the new HomeRF 2.0 spec, running at 10 Mbps, has been delayed to market to this summer. Nevertheless, Motorola plans to integrate HomeRF into set-top boxes and other residential gateways. (By Glenn Fleishman. Originally written for a newspaper, but evolved into too technical a piece.)
Columnist first part on integrating 802.11b with BSD: this part focuses just on the mechanics of 802.11b itself, with some overview.
Tangential but important: Microsoft backs FireWire over USB 2.0: this news ties in with earlier reports that Microsoft will incorporate just WiFi, not HomeRF and Bluetooth, into its Windows XP consumer operating system's fall release. FireWire or IEEE 1394 is a high-speed, widely deployed replacement for SCSI data transfer; it also supports networking peer-to-peer. USB 2.0 is supposed to be a faster, more robust replacement for the widely deployed and despised USB 1.0 and 1.1 found in virtually all PCs and Macs currently sold. Microsoft is bowing to market realities to better serve customers with equipment they already own, or that's cheap and widely available.
We're planning on deploying some USB 802.11b gear in vehicles and I'm wondering if anyone has experience with some of the products out there. Stuff you've used and liked, stuff to be wary of, things to look for in evaluation, that sort of thing.
When its all said and done I should be able to write up some results of my evaluations and contribute something back (you might have to hold me to this in case I don't remember).
The proliferation of public space wireless access may transform how people work. It will provide an almost seamless high-speed link between office, home, and road - from home to airport to in flight to airport to hotel to conference center.
Is this good? Will it make folks happier and more efficient? Probably not. But it's a reality that I want to track.
Already, it appears that more public space infrastructure is in place and testing without a lot of fanfare. I'd love to have people send in reports or use the discussion feature on this site (requires nominal registration) to talk about where they've found access.
In the next two to three weeks, I plan to add a searchable database of public space access, including both free and for-fee networks. If you're running either kind of network, please email me to discuss data sources.
Update: the folks at the security information site Shmoo have a resource in progress along these lines called GAWD. (An no Li'l Abner jokes, please.)
Microsoft drops Bluetooth from Windows XP, Microsoft list of supported wireless technology in Windows XP: Microsoft won't include support for either HomeRF (disclosed two weeks ago) or Bluetooth in its next-generation consumer OS, Windows XP, due out this fall. They will support WiFi, however, with a variety of system management hooks to improve laptop users ease of mobility.
Motorola announces big Bluetooth push: Motorola plans to release a Bluetooth card that can be embedded on motherboards for both major PC chip markets (PowerPC, Intel).
There are several kinds of Wi-Fi and 802.11 family equipment. Generally, a computer, printer, handheld, or similar independent device is equipped with a low-power radio which connects to a central access point.
Computer-to-computer connections are also possible, and generally supported by manufacturer's software. A standard revised in 2001 from The Wi-Fi Alliance formalized "ad hoc" computer-to-computer networking standards, which were previously supported only across specific firmware sets, not all Wi-Fi devices.
Some access points can connect to each other, or connect via specialized wireless bridges, to create daisy-chained networks to hop to a wired or wireless high-speed connection to the Internet or a corporate network. Others combine bridging and client access in a single device.
Access point (AP). These devices are typically standalone units, some of which can even be supplied with power by Ethernet (PoE or Power over Ethernet). Many access points feature routing support to handle subnet network assignment. Some access points are configured via the Web; others require proprietary software or a USB connection. For larger networks, several software and hardware packages allow configuring many units at once and monitoring them centrally. See, for instance, Proxim's Harmony AP Controller system and Sputnik's Enterprise Gateway. Many access points also allow external antennas to improve directionality or signal clarity. The 802.1x standard for user authentication -- incorporated in the WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and 802.11i security revisions -- allows access points to pass login information to a RADIUS, AAA, or similar authentication server rather than handling it directly or through a local system connected to the AP.
Home gateways. This class of access points is tailored for the home market, and may omit management features, routing, or a robust architecture. In most respects, however, they work identically with access points. Many gateways offer two or more Ethernet ports to fully isolate both a wired and wireless network from a broadband connection to filter traffic via a built-in firewall. See Cheap Residential Gateways.
Wireless bridges. Wireless bridges can span wireless networks by connecting the traffic from one or more AP to another, or by connecting multiple wired networks. In a hub-and-spoke model, a central access point could serve many wireless bridges as if they were normal clients (with equipment from Alvarion, for instance), allowing longer outdoor distances or indoor deployments. In the case of wired networks, a set of bridges can connect islands of wired devices or even entire networks in separate buildings or parts of a city. (See also Ethernet adapters and bridges, below.)
PC Cards. Laptops and certain desktop units can take PC Cards, a standard form factor that has an external projecting antenna in a small case, typically less than an inch long by two inches by a few eighths.
PCI cards. For ease of regulatory approval of emissions, older PCI cards, which slip into slots inside a tower or desktop computer, were essentially a simple holder for a PC Card. This unfortunately limited the kind of external antenna that can be used with most units. Newer PCI cards, however, are designed from the ground up to work as a PCI device, improving integration and functionality. (Most of these PCI cards use the same components found in mini-PCI cards.)
Mini-PCI cards. Many laptop manufacturers have adopted the mini-PCI form factor to add support for wireless networking and modems methods while leaving their PC Card slots free.
USB adapters. Legacy equipment, printers, and other devices which lack any slots into which an enabling radio could be added may use a USB-based radio. These devices are currently limited to USB speeds of 12 Mbps. They also require special drivers which won?t work on every platform or system release.
PDA modules. The PocketPC-based Toshiba e740 comes with integral Wi-Fi support (plus slots for Compact Flash and Secure Digital cards). Other PocketPC systems also handle Wi-Fi Compact Flash cards. On the Palm side, support lags.
Ethernet adapters and bridges. Several companies provide hardware that can bridge an Ethernet network, even if that "network" is just a single machine -- or up to 30 or 50. These devices masquerade as a single radio adapter, and translate or map the Ethernet behind it.
Apple AirPort and AirPort Extreme Card. Apple builds a card slot and an antenna into all of its computers since 1999, as they phased in wireless support. Computers introduced before 2003 have an PC Card-like slot for an AirPort Card, about $80; machines starting in 2003 have a mini-PCI-like slot which handles an AirPort Extreme Card, about $100. The AirPort standard is 802.11b; Extreme 802.11g.
Watch this space for discussions of prices and players for getting public space access for a fee via 802.11b.
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Intel has opted for the 802.11b wireless short-range networking standard in their next generation AnyPoint wireless-LAN hardware. This decision changed their course from a plan to include the next generation version of HomeRF, a related standard, in the home environment. It may mark a turning point in HomeRF and 802.11b adoption. (Read the story at EETimes.com.)
When I was researching a huge New York Times piece about wireless networks for public use in places like airports and coffee shops (archived here), I heard from many sources that HomeRF was not going to be an ultimately successful player. Of course, most of these sources were either manufacturing 802.11b equipment, or deploying it. So I had to take it with a grain of salt, and that scepticism didn't enter into the final piece.
But I'll admit that while I try to view the field without bias, it was clear that Proxim was driving the HomeRF standard, and 802.11b - not least because it was an IEEE promulgated specification - had broad industry support. No one has to drive 802.11b because so many companies were involved in a consensus-based process to build the standard. It's also an evolution of a standard that's been under development for several years.
HomeRF, on the other hand, needed an advocate in the form of Proxim, the company that came up with the basics. Now, most sources I spoke to agreed that there was a niche home-networking purpose for HomeRF, because HomeRF has a guaranteed "schedule" that allows voice conversations and data to intermingle without losing voice quality. 802.11b lacks this feature, requiring underlying applications to handle their own scheduling. This could result in dropouts and lags.
But it seems to me that the 802.11b juggernaut had already rolled over HomeRF, partly because HomeRF wasn't allowed to work at the same high speeds as 802.11b until approval from the FCC last August. 802.11b has been able to run at 11 Mbps (raw speed; actual data transfer without overhead is about 7 Mbps) since 1999. HomeRF products that can run at its newly approved 10 Mbps flavor won't be available in lots of devices until summer. (They can also run at 22 Mbps in a new specification using the same frequency rules, but that's not going to be in shipping equipment for at least another year.)
According to the EE Times story, this delay is one factor that drove Intel to drop HomeRF 2.0 (the 10 Mbps standard) in their AnyPoint devices. Another was the fast and extensive penetration of 802.11b devices in the home - a charge led by a number of vendors now with their $300 or less home gateways. (See related cheap gateways article.)
HomeRF isn't yet out of the picture, and Motorola and Siemens both have serious commitments to ship HomeRF equipment in set-top cable boxes, home gateways, and telephone receivers. We'll see what's up by summer.
Apr. 4: Coverage by John Markoff in The New York Times about further security problems with 802.11b's WEP encryption. The newest flaw reveals that it's extremely easy to have an outside machine tap into the network.
Mar. 29: The highly entertaining Rob Flickenger, some kind of dyed-his-hair-orange system admin for O'Reilly and Associates, notes the performance of WiFi under microwave oven conditions. WiFi suffers a performance hit when there's an operating microwave oven nearby because the oven emits interference in the 2.4 GHz band, which WiFi uses. His report is here, and quite charming.
Feb. 22: Wireless Web, Wherever, The New York Times by Glenn Fleishman. Survey of the companies deploying for-fee access via 802.11b in public venues, including restaurants, coffee shops (such as Starbucks), airports, and hotels. Includes sidebar on the issues surrounding using the technology.
Apr. 7: Cheap Home Gateways: an overview of several inexpensive (sub-$300) home gateways that work as access points and routers
Apr. 5: Co-existence in the 2.4 GHz Band: or, how Bluetooth, HomeRF, and 802.11b/WiFi are going to manage to get along while sharing frequencies
Filed 4/5/01 by Glenn Fleishman
Note: update on 4/12/01 at bottom of article.
An invisible battle with billions of conflicts a second may rage all around us this summer as three competing short-range wireless networking standards begin wide deployment. The battle will be fought not just in the electromagnetic spectrum, but also in the field, as manufacturers ship equipment without clear expectations for their customers quality of service.
The three standards are Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11b, and HomeRF, all of which use the unregulated 2.4 GHz (gigahertz or billions of cycles per second) band. This band, which spans 2400 to 2483.5 MHz (megahertz) in the U.S., and similar frequencies worldwide, can carry megabits of data per second.
The FCC and its counterparts in most other countries have agreed to allow any individual or organization to use all or part of this band without a license via certified low-power, short-range “radios.”
These radios must use spread spectrum transmission, a technique in which no single frequency is used exclusively for more than a short period of time. The three networking standards employ two different spread spectrum methodologies, which put them at loggerheads for use of the band when they’re used within a few feet to a few dozen feet of each other.
All three networking styles divide the available bandwidth into channels. But Bluetooth and HomeRF use frequency hopping (FH), in which the transmission hops in predefined patterns from channel to channel across the entire 83.5 MHz spectrum. IEEE 802.11b, on the other hand, divides the spectrum into overlapping 22 MHz channels, and sends all its information through those swaths.
Bluetooth is designed to exchange data among portable peripherals (digital cameras, cell phones, PDAs, etc.) using a laptop or desktop as a controller. IEEE 802.11b is an extension of Ethernet to wireless networking; the “b” marks the latest, high-speed version of up to 11 Mbps. HomeRF also networks computers (up to 10 Mbps in the 2.0 version), but allows voice and data to intermingle with scheduled priority assigned to voice packets. The range of the networks runs from about 10m radius for Bluetooth to 30m or further for HomeRF and 802.11b. (One manufacturer claims 1,000 feet for line-of-sight with their 802.11b access point, and future chipsets may increase the maximum distance.)
The collision between these technologies may intensify this summer as equipment starts to be widely deployed. HomeRF’s 10 Mbps protocol was approved by the FCC in August 2000, and manufacturers like Proxim, Siemens, and Motorola are just now gearing up. (The HomeRF Working Group has said that the same approval applies to their future 22 Mbps HomeRF 3.0 specification, not yet released.)
Bluetooth, according to many companies, is about to burst forth as the cost lessens and the availability of chipsets rapidly tools up. Recent setbacks include a failure of the largest test to date at a trade show, and Microsoft’s apparent decision to not include native Bluetooth support built into Windows XP, its next-generation consumer operating system due out this fall.
IEEE 802.11b has found wide adoption in the home, small office, and corporation, as well as in public places, where service providers are using it in airport terminals, coffee shops, and hotels to connect business travelers to the Internet. Enabling central hubs cost as little as $300 (more for enterprise versions), and PC and PCI cards run from $100 to $200.
The conflict between these standards is apparent if you visualize an 84-lane highway on which cars of all shapes and sizes tool along with one thing in common: no windows. Some cars are Yugo size in height and width (Bluetooth), occupying a little more than line, but veering wildly from side of the highway to another. Other cars are super road yachts (802.11b), towering 50 feet in the sky and filling 22 lanes, but they never move out of their position. And yet other mid-size vehicles fill only five lanes (HomeRF), but they’re still careening around.
You can imagine the carnage this would cause. During rush hour, with lots of all three models zooming around, the juggernaut might crush the Yugos, but enough collisions cause it to explode Pinto-style. Some cars get through – but at what cost?
The groups representing each standard are talking, but the results of conversations won’t affect currently deployed equipment; it may be until 2002 until new standards that allow better co-existence find their way into shipping equipment.
The IEEE formed an 802.15 group focusing on Personal Area Networks (PAN), with a task group devoted to developing agreement around turning the Bluetooth spec into an IEEE standard.
Another 802.15 task group is working on co-existence between 802.11 and Bluetooth that might necessitate changes in both specifications, possibly using a technique known as adaptive FH, in which frequencies known to be in use or full of interference are “learned” and ignored. (Imagine a car with radar that helps it avoid the crash-prone lanes.)
Although Bluetooth and HomeRF involve potentially fewer collisions, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) – the consortium of companies promoting the specification – has regular technical contact with the HomeRF Working Group, Inc., HomeRF’s group of backers, according to Tod Sizer, a Lucent (Bell Labs) researcher and chair of Bluetooth’s co-existence group. Ken Haase, a marketing director at Proxim and general chairman of HomeRF, said, “We may occasionally bump into each other, but it’s a nominal impact.”
HomeRF and 802.11b pose a bigger conflict, because both technologies burn through lots of spectrum in a competing fashion. Steve Shellhammer, chair of the IEEE 802.15 co-existence task group said, “There’s an interference issue and it needs to be addressed” between 802.11b and HomeRF, but “our initial focus is on 802 standards.” Meanwhile, Haase said, “There are have been informal conversations but there haven’t been any formal meetings” between the IEEE and HomeRF.
The best the personal or business consumer of wireless technology can hope for is a quick resolution of the current conflicts, and the ability to update equipment that’s shipped via firmware updates or trade-ins. And perhaps a purely approach might favor a brighter future. Sizer said, “There’s quite a bit of self-interest for us to minimize impact not only on Bluetooth but on other users in the band.”
Wi-Fi took homes by storm in 2001 with ever-cheaper residential gateways that combined a full-featured access point (AP) with minimal firewall support and often multiple Ethernet ports for also attaching wired local area networks (LANs).
There are at least a dozen minor and major brand name makers of home gateways, including the big boys like Proxim, Intel, and 3Com; computer companies repackaging and reformulating other makers' devices (Apple and others); and a whole group of high-quality consumer-oriented firms including Linksys, D-Link, SMC, and Buffalo.
Many of these units now cost $100 to $150. Some of these devices come in several configurations with varying options: printer sharing or not; modem port or not; Ethernet switch or not. These home gateways generally lack the network management and service robustness needed for corporate infrastructure, but are over and above the needs for a home or small office that has less than a few dozen machines. For networks without wireless servers, any of these units should be far above adequate.
New, faster draft 802.11g equipment is just hitting the market in early 2003 for slightly more than 802.11b gear -- it has a rated speed of 54 Mbps versus b's 11 Mbps speed, but it requires full backwards compatibility with existing 802.11b equipment. (Don't confuse 802.11a and 802.11g: the "a"a flavor -- which is one of two approved Wi-Fi specs -- works on a different frequency range from 802.11b and g, but also has a top rate of 54 Mbps.)
Where manufacturers have multiple similar models, I've tried to point to the cheapest, simplest one and indicate features and costs for the higher-priced alternatives.
View the full comparison matrix with explanations of each term. You may want to print the matrix.
This site's mission is to post links to articles, studies, and other information about the IEEE 802.11b specification, as well as include writing and advice about implementation and deployment.