New Briefs

* The convergence voice and data on to Internet Protocol (IP) networks on to Internet Protocol (IP) networks will be a major driving force behind wireless local-area network (WLAN) adoption in the near future, according to panelists who spoke a recent industry conference.

Wireless IP phones

aren’t commonplace now, but this will soon change, said Craig Mathias, principal of Boston-based consulting firm Farpoint Group.

“”The wired phone we have on our desktop today is doomed,”” Mathias said. “”In 10 years, we won’t have them anymore.””

Companies are taking a good hard look at voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) because workers often call each other on their cell phones when they’re in buildings, away from their desks, said Joel Vincent, vice-president of product marketing for Meru Networks Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based wireless LAN equipment manufacturer.

Vincent made his remarks at a panel discussion, titled VoWLAN: In Search of New Protocols at last month’s Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo.

Mathias, who spoke at an earlier panel, predicted VoIP will be the “”killer application”” for networks using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ 802.11a standard.

802.11a is more suitable for VoWLAN than 802.11b, because the former operates in the 5GHZ spectrum — which is less prone to interference than the 2.4GHz frequency range — and allows transfer speeds of up to 54 megabits per second (Mbps). By contrast, the IEEE 802.11b standard provides transfer rates of only 11 Mbps. Although 802.11g provides 54 Mbps, it also operates at 2.4GHz in order to allow devices to work with 802.11b devices.

Interference with other devices in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, such as microwave ovens, is a major issue for WLANs, said Andris Dindzans, director of product management for Pleasonton, Calif.-based Trapeze Networks, which makes wireless LAN management software.

“”Understanding what’s going on in the air is critical, and can be a barrier to companies,”” he said.

Dindzans, along with Mathias, spoke at a panel titled Managing WLANs: The Problems and the Paybacks.

The difficulty of managing wireless LANs is a major barrier to entry, Mathias said, adding security is not as big of a problem now that technologies like Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) are widely available.

Although many surveys show the No. 1 reason companies do not install wireless LANs is security concerns, this is “”just an excuse,”” Mathias said.

“”What they’re really saying is, ‘I don’t have time to think about it,'”” he said. “”I think security is a red herring today … If you want to build a secure wireless LAN, you can.””

Last year, he said, eight per cent of enterprises were using wireless LANs in mission-critical applications, and this year, that figure will rise to 15 per cent.

In order to help users install voice over wireless LAN, carriers will need to offer dual-mode handsets that work on both cellular networks and internal 802.11-based systems, he added.

But roaming from one 802.11 access point to another within the LAN is a major issue for VoWLAN, said Chris Thorson, senior product manager of SpectraLink Corp.

When a user moves from one location to another, one wireless access point may hand off the connection to another access point, and this is going to cause delay, partly because of the time it takes to authenticate, he said.

Boulder, Colo.-based SpectraLink manufactures wireless phones using both its own proprietary standard, and 802.11.

—Greg Meckbach

* Canada’s four major cellular service providers had no choice but to allow subscribers to use wireless 802.11 hotspots operated by several carriers, a Rogers Wireless executive said last month.

At the Wi-FiPower conference (which is different from Wi-Fi Planet), David Robinson, Rogers Wireless vice-president of business development, said there was a danger the Wi-Fi hotspot market could fragment to the point that it wouldn’t be useful to subscribers.

His company, along with Telus Mobility, Microcell Solutions and Bell Mobility, are creating common standards for roaming and interoperability of the public Wi-Fi hotspots they operate.

Under the alliance, customers will gain access to an identical, browser-based log-in when they enter an area branded as part of the roaming alliance, Robinson said.

Wi-Fi hot spots, which have been set up in many public places such as airports, coffee shops and hotels, allow users with laptops or other client devices with 802.11 cards to log on to the Internet, often for a daily fee.

The agreement is intended to make it easier for other carriers and networks to connect with Canada and will impact how the market evolves within the country and outside its borders, explained Almis Ledas, vice-president of corporate development at Bell Mobility.

“”The whole intent of the roaming alliance is to really move Wi-Fi forward in Canada,”” said Marc Choma, director of communications at the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association in Ottawa. He said this Wi-Fi announcement is the first in North America and is one of the first in the world. “”It’s such a useful technology that a limited number of people have had access to prior to this.””

Pierre Bonin, executive vice-president of Microcell Solutions in Montreal, said “”the book hasn’t yet been written on revenue models of WiFi,”” so everyone will have to see how the industry evolves.

As it stands, Infonetics Research of San Jose, Calif., reported 2002 Wi-Fi revenues of US$42 billion with a compounded annual growth rate of 30 per cent projected through to 2006.

The roaming system will be available later in the fall. The four carriers also announced they plan to build more than 500 public hotspots over the next year, and to allow other Wi-Fi hot spot service providers to join their alliance.

Despite Wi-Fi’s advances it faces a few challenges, noted Michael Binder, assistant deputy minister of spectrum, information technologies and telecommunications at Industry Canada. The wireless sector needs to deal with continuing security problems around war driving, hijacking of someone’s Wi-Fi connection or using a hijacked connection for illegal activities like viewing child pornography, he said.

—Fawzia Sheikh

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