Wireless standard slightly flawed

The IEEE 802.11 standard for wireless Ethernet which promises users 2Mbit/sec bandwidth is not completely multivendor interoperable due to an oversight.

The 802.11 standard is the specification for spread spectrum wireless local area network (LAN) technologies, but while industry standards are established to create a heterogeneous environment, the wireless standard has missed interoperability in the LAN's back-end.

The standard does not address interoperability when the user moves from one cell coverage to another (within a campus), where the cells are supported by multivendor access points, said Geoffrey Ho, regional business manager for global commercial markets and global private systems, Lucent Technologies Singapore.

In order to provide wireless communication in a LAN environment, the campus is subdivided into various cells where each cell is supported by an access point (or a bridge), Ho explained. How large an area each cell covers will depend on the organisation's needs, where smaller cells provide better security.

The 802.11 standard only provides interoperability between end-user products, such as a 'Brand A' laptop, and the access point (typically a bridge) that is provided by a 'Brand B', Ho explained, and added that 802.11 does not offer interoperability of multivendor access points.

For example, if the laptop user accesses the Web via wireless connection while walking from a cell that is supported by 'Brand A' access point to another cell that is supported by 'Brand B' access point, he will lose his Internet connection, he noted.

However, this IEEE oversight is not critical because "not many people would be surfing the Web and walking at the same time", he quipped, and added that a consortium of vendors, including Lucent, is presently establishing the Inter-Access Point Protocol (IAPP) to address this problem.

Possible Limitations

Singapore's wireless LAN (WLAN) market was forecast to grow by 28 per cent in 1998 over the previous year to reach $US2.5 million in revenue terms, according to research organisation Frost and Sullivan.

In 1998, 1,470 WLAN units were shipped, compared to just 850 the year before, said the company, and predicted that by the end of 1999, unit shipment would grow to 2190.

But some organisations questioned the limited 2Mbit/sec bandwidth, while others lack the expertise to take advantage of the wireless phenomenon.

"I will welcome the day I can get above 2Mbit/sec from anybody," said Ed Carpenter, infrastructure engineer at St. Joseph Healthcare, who added that the higher bandwidth may help him to persuade executives as well as doctors to use WLANs.

Lucent's Ho attributed doubts concerning easy deployment to "unfamiliarity and the usual cultural bias because it's a new technology," and while it still costs twice as much to build a wireless LAN than a wired infrastructure, the technology is necessary for businesses that need mobility.

Although realistically speaking, most users do not require that much bandwidth, he admitted that the standard's 2Mbit/sec bandwidth could hinder wider adoption of the wireless technology, and stressed the importance of developing higher speed standards.

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