You may have a long wait before the higher data rate offerings of 802.11a are available. Though I am and always have been a strong supporter of 802.11, I recommend that you consider HiperLAN-based products, which currently offer the fastest wireless LANs available worldwide, while you wait.
What's HiperLAN? It began life in Europe as a specification (EN 300 652) ratified in 1996 by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Broadband Radio Access Network organization. HiperLAN/1, the current version, operates in the 5 GHz radio band at speeds as high as 24 Mbps.
Like Ethernet and 802.11, HiperLAN/1 uses a carrier sense multiple access protocol to give wireless LAN access to end-user devices. CSMA regulates traffic on the LAN by having devices listen for other transmissions and transmit data only when no other device is transmitting. HiperLAN/1 also provides quality-of-service (QoS) support for the varying needs of data, video, voice, and images. Proxim's RangeLAN5 product family was the first HiperLAN offering available in the US, and I haven't seen any other US-based wireless LAN manufacturers follow.
What other choices do you have for high-speed wireless LANs based on an approved standard? None. Companies are currently developing IEEE 802.11a-compliant devices with data rates as high as 20 Mbps, but it will probably be the end of 2000 before any are available on the market.
ETSI is currently developing HiperLAN/2 under an organization called the HiperLAN/2 Global Forum, or H2GF. HiperLAN/2 will operate in the 5 GHz band at speeds as high as 54 Mbps using a connection-oriented protocol for sharing access among end-user devices. HiperLAN/2 will include QoS support and be capable of carrying Ethernet frames, ATM cells, and IP packets. Don't expect to see products that make use of these capabilities until early 2002, however.
Not sure which wireless LAN standard fits your needs today? Consider the following when deciding whether to use HiperLAN or IEEE 802.11 products:
Analyze your need for network bandwidth. Do you really need the higher speed of HiperLAN, or can you get by with the 11 Mbps provided by 802.11b? The higher the utilization, the more bandwidth you'll need. If you need to transmit video or large images, you should also lean towards toward HiperLAN.
Consider alternatives. Can you wait for IEEE 802.11a-compliant products? IEEE standards like 802.3, better known as Ethernet, have been highly popular and stable over years of usage. The 802.11 standards will likely follow a similar path. Large companies, such as Cisco and 3Com, have settled on supplying 802.11-based solutions. If you don't want to take risks, then put your money on 802.11.
Evaluate your end-user devices. Do the devices you plan to use support HiperLAN? Not many do in the US today. You don't want to install a wireless network and be severely limited in the devices that will operate on it.
Next time, we'll discuss Bluetooth, a developing standard for short-range wireless connectivity.