March 27, 2001, 2:21 PM — ADVANCEMENTS in wireless networking are empowering IT managers to design, deploy, and enhance networks more flexibly and economically than before. In turn, companies reap the benefits of allowing dispersed employees to access, change, and create documents in real time. That level of collaboration can boost productivity exponentially.
On the downside, wireless networks currently have lower data rates than some companies might want or need, and they are not always dependable.
Fortunately, advancements in the 802.11 standard, the first standard for wireless networking, promise within the year to power high-performance wireless solutions that will support location independence, mobile computing, and multimedia applications and will boost data rates and dependability.
In 1999 the IEEE published two supplements to the 802.11 standard: 802.11a and 802.11b. Although 802.11b is widely used, 802.11a is superior in that it operates in the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) 5GHz band and supports a variety of high data rates. 802.11a also uses OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), which helps prevent interference and fading problems.
Despite these advantages, vendors were reluctant to buy in to 802.11a because of the cost of producing the compliant chip sets. Fortunately, integrated 5GHz transceiver solutions that use the less expensive CMOS technology are becoming available.
Wireless networks built around the 802.11a standard will be capable of sending data, audio, and video at speeds as fast as 54Mbps on the UNII band. Those speeds support advanced multimedia applications and content.
Moreover, systems operating on the UNII band will enjoy an interference-free environment because no other devices currently operate on it.
Many chipmakers, including Radiata and Atheros Communications, are planning to offer RF (radio frequency) transceivers using CMOS technology before year's end. Wi-LAN and Philips Semiconductors also support the new standard and recently released the first ASIC chip based on the standard.
Whether your company should wait for higher data rate products before you implement a wireless network really boils down to your immediate needs. If you must have a wireless system today, 802.11b might prove sufficient. If you foresee a need for higher data rates and are willing to wait, 802.11a may be a better option, but bear in mind that the products built around the standard will likely be more expensive.