Comdex this week will offer network executives an intriguing view of the not-too-distant wireless future.
That future includes a new high-speed wireless LAN standard that could eventually supplant 802.11b; a new generation of affordable handheld devices with built-in wireless LAN or cellular interfaces; and new public-access wireless LAN products that are a step toward keeping mobile workers linked to headquarters.
New end-user devices will take much of the limelight. Hewlett-Packard Co. is expected to release two iPaq pocket PCs, including a low-end model for about US$300. A high-end model, for about $600, will incorporate 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless interfaces. These interfaces will let the device connect to a corporate wireless LAN while working with nearby devices, such as laptops and printers, that also have the short-range Bluetooth radio interface.
Dell Computer Corp. is expected to shake up the handheld market by unveiling a line of Pocket PC handhelds, one for as low as $200. Details are sketchy, but a Dell document circulated recently on the Web said the handhelds will have Digital and Compact Flash expansion slots, and run one of two fast versions of Intel's Xscale chip.
Microsoft, besides boosting the new tablet PCs built by its hardware partners, will show off with Samsung what's billed as an "ultralow-cost" Pocket PC concept design. The joint effort is an attempt to lower development costs for device manufacturers. The project was unveiled last week and describes a device barely 4 by 3 inches, and weighing just 2.9 ounces in the gray-scale version. It's fitted with a Samsung Arm9-based application processor with flash memory, a multimedia card and support for Secure Digital and Secure Digital I/O expansion cards.
The first 802.11g access points and interface cards will be demonstrated at the show, with a data rate of 54M bit/sec on the same 2.4-GHz band used by 11M bit/sec 802.11b networks. Texas Instruments will announce a chipset that can support 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g wireless LANs. Broadcom and Intersil are unveiling chipsets that promise "universal" wireless LAN client cards and access points.
These products would let client devices automatically select whichever wireless connection was available, without requiring manual reconfiguration.
Linksys is one wireless LAN vendor that will unveil 802.11g product plans, demonstrating an access point and adapter cards that can support the higher data rates.
New architectural approaches also will be on display, including the peer-to-peer wireless LAN technology being introduced by MeshNetworks (see related story, page 21). Symbol Technologies will showcase its recently announced Mobius wireless LAN, which offers stripped-down access points that connect with a controller packed with enhanced security software and an array of switching features.
For the wireless LAN public-access market, Proxim will unveil the AP-2500, which will support 802.11a and 802.11b connections, and "dynamic address translation" to simplify the connecting process for end users. For improved security, the AP-2500 will work with Remote Authenitication Dial-In User Service and Secure Sockets Layer servers.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group promoting wireless LAN interoperability, will unveil a framework that will let users log on to various public-access nets in a consistent way, be authenticated, and have the appropriate subscriber data forwarded to their "home" wireless service provider.
The alliance also will promote its newly announced, and widely backed, Wi-Fi Protected Access software, based on work by Microsoft. The technology will incorporate a number of features contained in the IEEE 8092.11i specification, which is designed to correct a number of security weaknesses in the wireless LAN standard. IEEE ratification won't be complete until 2003, and the alliance initiative will let vendors and enterprise users deploy improved security in the meantime.