After three years of Wi-Fi, hurdles remain

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

The widespread adoption of the wireless Internet will change the way PCs, handhelds and Web sites are sold and will alter how computer users live, work and play, if the hype is to be believed.

That hype persists amid the lack of much else to cheer about in IT these days, with vendors offering a future vision of "hot spots" everywhere so that home computer users move unencumbered from room to room while mobile workers keep plugging away from airports, restaurants and, according to Intel Corp.'s latest marketing blitz, football stadiums and swimming pools.

But members of the Wi-Fi Alliance acknowledge that obstacles must be cleared before wireless networking becomes part of the mainstream corporation's IT budget, or part of a consumer's monthly communications bill. The alliance is a nonprofit consortium of vendors involved in the wireless market.

Lack of security means that wireless networks can expose sensitive corporate information to anyone with a few dollars to spend on sniffer products and who has a decent grasp of networking. Several different standards are causing confusion, and not all products work with all standards. Searching for a hot spot, or a place to connect to the Internet outside of a home or corporate network, can be a frustrating experience.

As of this week, the Wi-Fi Alliance has been certifying products for various wireless Internet standards under development over the past three years by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), resulting in more than 700 products that have earned the group's stamp of approval. Among other things, the IEEE develops standards for a range of technical areas, including telecommunications, computer engineering, consumer electronics, electric power and aerospace.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is looking to improve the security of the technology this year with the certification of products bearing a new standard, and will undertake a marketing campaign bringing Wi-Fi access providers together under the Wi-Fi Zone to raise the public's awareness of hot spots, said Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance board of directors and strategic marketing manager for wireless networking products at Milpitas, California-based Intersil Corp., in an interview.

Wi-Fi, short for Wireless Fidelity, used to refer just to the 802.11b standard, but the alliance now uses it to refer to the broader spectrum of WLAN (wireless LAN) standards, including 802.11a and the emerging 802.11g. The most commonly used 802.11b standard works on the 2.4GHz frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum and allows users to transmit data at speeds up to 11M bps (bits per second). But a vast number of wireless products, such as cordless phones and garage door openers, use the 2.4GHz frequency and can cause disruptions in service.

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