Wireless standards hold potential for E-business

Computers should, ideally, be intelligent enough to understand spoken language, demonstrate logical thinking and anticipate the needs of the user. In my own wired household which one day I will build (after I finish remodeling the bathroom, fixing the garage, putting on new gutters, and repairing the plumbing), the entire house will be a single network, and it will understand my coffee drinking patterns such that the coffee pot will know when it is empty, and will anticipate whether or not I am likely to want more any time soon. If the coffee pot does decide that it is likely that I will want some within the next say, 30 minutes, it will turn itself on and brew some without my intervention.

Having every single device in the house connected to a network presents the unwieldy spectre of having miles of Category-5 cabling running through my walls, over my counters, in every room, to my home office in the basement, and out to the garage. Not a pretty sight. There's an obvious solution: wireless networks.

The Bluetooth standard may fit in well here, but with a limitation of 30 feet it may not meet my grand design. At 300 feet, Wi-Fi may be the ideal solution for wireless LANs (WLANs). If you're connecting devices in a single room, Bluetooth may be the best bet, but for greater distances, Wi-Fi will be the way to go. A wireless network starts with the wireless access point unit, which allows all equipment with wireless NICs to share files, devices, and an Internet connection.

Of course, there is the security aspect to consider. We've all heard the stories, which are true, about people cruising through downtown with a laptop equipped with a wireless NIC, and tapping into folks' wireless LANs. Security need not be a hindrance to deploying a WLAN, however. The solution may be as simple as keeping the wireless network separated from the wired one by placing a firewall between the corporate network and each wireless access point. Doing so prevents the WLAN from being used as a pathway to the wired LAN.

As with any new technology, interoperability is a concern. The Wi-Fi Alliance [1] will begin interoperability certification testing in November for 5GHz based (802.11a) Wi-Fi products. Testing for 802.11b products began in March 2000. There are over 450 certified products on multiple platforms already on the market.

How this will impact the state of E-business is anybody's guess, but the effects may be pretty dramatic. E-business, when all's said and done, is about two things: connectivity and access. Wi-Fi beefs up both. Consider this: Boingo Wireless and EarthLink offers wireless access from locations such as airports and cafes. Users can find the nearest available Wi-Fi "hot spot" while on the road. This is more of a "road warrior" application than a full-fledged E-business application, but the potential is there. You could create a wireless VPN to connect with partners, customers and others, regardless of location, so long as each member can get to a "hot spot." And of course, it's just a matter of time before e-mails and pop-up ads are delivered to Wi-Fi users based on their location (this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which side of the advertising fence you sit on). Regardless, this is a hot technology to look out for in the near future. Eventually, anyone with portable computing equipment will need it -- look for it to become default equipment on laptops.

[1] http://www.weca.net/OpenSection/index.asp

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