Wireless LAN faces gridlock

Wireless device popularity is tolling a death knell for wireless LAN signals. Wireless LAN's 2.4GHz spectrum is expected to become crowded so quickly that companies could find themselves replacing all their wireless equipment in just two to three years, as wireless technology is forced to move to less-obstructed, higher frequencies.

However, slow uptake amongst Australian companies could save users the headaches of installing a system only to replace it down the track.

"At some point, this band will get filled up. It will be perceived as a garbage band, and then we'll move to 5GHz," said Phil Belanger, vice president of wireless business development at Wayport, which plans to install wireless LAN networks in 20 airports this year.

Wireless LAN users - who enjoy speeds of 11Mbit/sec and network connectivity without cables - share the 2.4GHz frequency band not only with other wireless LAN users but also with other devices. These range from microwave ovens to cordless phones to short-range Bluetooth devices, designed to provide wireless connections between laptops and printers.

In addition, major network equipment vendors have developed wireless LAN products for home offices, providing mobility for laptops.

These and other developments are expected to drive 41 per cent growth in the wireless LAN market over the next two years, peaking at 33.9 million units in 2002, according to Cahners In-Stat Group.

However, Joel Martin, senior analyst in data communications at IDC, said the slow uptake of wireless LAN technology means greater choice for users.

While cost and speed issues held back wide-scale deployment in Australia, Martin said it is now seen as a viable alternative. But timing is critical, he added.

"Users will have the choice to defer implementation and use the new technology based on 5GHz, or deploy wireless now based on immediate benefits to the organisation, knowing that this will depreciate in the future," he said.

David Ziembicki, chief technology officer at Global Digital Media.com, which is installing wireless LANs in airports, said his company has "concerns about interference" in the 2.4GHz band. He suggested that IT managers who are considering deployment of a wireless LAN "conduct a site survey like we do to determine existing sources of noise and frequency interference" and then work to alleviate as many of those as possible.

Brent Miller, a senior engineer at IBM's pervasive computing division, said anyone planning to use 2.4GHz wireless products "needs to account for interference", including static between Bluetooth and wireless LANs. But "under the worst of circumstances", he said, "performance degrades gracefully".

However, a more pressing concern, according to IDC's Martin, is security.

"When you start beaming information in the air, it becomes easier for someone to sniff it," he said.

Additionally, training end users and IT managers to implement the systems is another concern for companies already battling a skills shortage he added.

Mobile phones maybe next on the virus hit listComputer viruses that are as contagious as the common cold could create even more havoc than the ILoveYou bug with the advent of WAP technology, according to industry experts.

The New Scientist magazine says hackers are thought to be developing malicious programs that target the new generation of Internet-linked phones and laptop computers. "They could record your conversations and forward them to others, delete money from ‘electronic wallets', or perhaps rack up huge telephone bills," the science weekly reported.

Viruses infect computers through e-mail, which could be a problem for future programmable mobiles - especially if e-mail attachments can trigger other applications.

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