Wireless LANs are a kind of paradox. The inner workings of the radios and such are complicated, but actually plugging them together into a net can be pretty simple.
Still, there remain a host of problems that only now are starting to get some attention:
-- Deploying and managing handheld applications and systems software.
-- Alerting employees or customers wirelessly about problems or changes.
-- Protecting devices from misuse if stolen or lost.
-- Making effective use of so-called "rich media" - color images and animations with voice or sound.
-- Letting the new breed of "Web services" applications work with each other, no matter whose software they're built on.
Here are some products that have started to address these problems:
A company called CyberPixie Inc., of Chicago, has released Install Wizard, software that automatically handles nearly all the setup and configuration of a wireless LAN card on laptop computers. The company claims a user simply inserts the Install Wizard CD, and reads directions on how to install the wireless LAN card into a PCMCIA slot in the computer. Then the software loads the correct software drivers and configures the appropriate files.
Netaphor Software Inc., in Irvine, Calif., has released a beta version of PDAlert, a PocketPC-based management application that uses a wireless LAN to find and monitor other devices on the corporate network, like printers, routers, digital copiers, switches and the like. A Palm OS version is due later in 2002. The program stores data collected from the devices in a file that can be transferred later to an administrator's desktop PC.
Categoric Software, in Sterling, Va., introduced Xalerts 5.1, which is a small, embedded program that connects with backend databases. It looks for changes made to data, and then creates e-mail messages or Short Message Service messages to notify a list of recipients about the change. The new version now lets Xalerts do this via telephone, and can give the recipient a choice of actions to take by pressing one or more buttons on the telephone handset. It also has an escalation feature: If the first contact doesn't respond in a predetermined time, the software sends the alert to another person.
Nomadix Inc., Westlake Village, Calif., offers the Network Service Engine, software that integrates with wireless access points or the company's Universal Subscriber Gateway. The device, without any client side software, then can connect all wireless users, regardless of their client network settings, and uses Secure Sockets Layer encryption and access control software to authenticate the users. A patented Dynamic Address Translation technique lets the gateway track all users as they move among various sites.
Chipmaker Xilinx Inc., in San Jose, says it has created a new electronic chip for mobile phones that will let network managers reconfigure the chips over the air, and shut the phone down if its been stolen. The CoolRunner-II Complex Programmable Logic Device can be programmed and reprogrammed over a wired or wireless net. A carrier or net operator could send a signal to the chip that would cause it to erase the phone's functionality. If recovered, the phone can be reconfigured with a password, without having to bring the phone to a store.
Multimedia too often looks like a solution in search of a problem. But Eyematic Interfaces Inc., of Los Angeles, just closed a $16 million round of funding to continue development of its next-generation multimedia communications software, called Synthetic Video. The software will run on cellular phones and wireless PDAs, across 2G, 2.5G and 3G wireless cell nets, as well as wired Internet connections. The software is intended for messaging that includes video and audio elements, TV-style information broadcasts, and interactive programs, including games.
Halcyon Software Inc., in San Jose, has just released beta software for its iHub product, which is designed to interconnect Microsoft .Net, Windows, J2EE, and XML applications. Halcyon software engineers took the .Net Remoting infrastructure, which lets a program work with remote objects analogous to the Java Remote Method Invocation, and rewrote it in Java to run on different operating systems. If successful, iHub could simplify interoperability between emerging Web services based on competing .Net and Java standards. The software includes support for an array of application standards, and includes an XML parser.
The iHub beta was released with Halcyon's InstaNet, which is a Java version of the entire Microsoft.Net technology. Though mainly an enterprise play now, iHub and similar tools could become very important in extending Web services to handheld devices.