Random thoughts: WMANs, WLANs, PDAs, and cell phone noise pollution

By C.J. Mathias, Farpoint Group |  Mobile & Wireless

Another IEEE standard, 802.11i, was also approved in the last week. This is the long-awaited improvement to wireless LAN security, and is essentially everything in Wireless Protected Access (WPA) plus the addition of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Note, however, that this security standard only applies to the airlink, and not to the end-to-end security that I've advocated for some time. And while it does encrypt traffic at the MAC layer, and thus encapsulates everything above the MAC, it will most likely require new client adapters. This is because AES is very computationally intensive (as opposed to WEP, which is trivial to implement), and will thus be provisioned via a coprocessor or an additional processor within the 802.11 chipset in most cases. I think that the use of VPNs is going to accelerate, especially on WLAN links, so 802.11i may not be a necessary upgrade for most users. Regardless, all users should adopt at least WPA in any WLAN network. Security is no place to take chances, and WPA is now widely available and fairly easy to use. But if you want the suspenders-and-a-belt approach, then take a look at 802.11i. Products will be on the market over the next few months.

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Are PDAs doomed? Sony's recent departure from the US PDA market got many analysts to thinking that perhaps they are. One argument that's being made is that a PDA without wireless makes little sense any more, so PDA phones and Wi-Fi PDAs are perhaps the way we're all going to go. Maybe; I think the argument can still be made for the $100 PDA as a phone book and scheduler, especially if it's easy to exchange information with other platforms and devices. But therein lays the real problems with PDAs: the "easy" part. I have owned many PDAs, both Palm OS and Pocket PC, since the early days of both platforms. I've never found either to be terribly easy to use, although I will give the advantage here to Palm. Pocket PC (or whatever Microsoft is calling it this week) is an abomination -- "hard to use" doesn't begin to describe the situation. This is because of Microsoft's penchant for viewing every platform as a computer. MS should be thinking appliance, but whenever important decisions need to be made at Microsoft, the company always seems to favor its traditional target audience of techies. This has been the culture of Microsoft since its founding -- end users can buy books, attend classes, or jump off a bridge; Microsoft just doesn't care. So, I note here, if one wants to grow the market for PDAs, or any other high-tech product, ease-of-use is the place to start. Think customer, not computer.

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