Wireless Networking Product Guide
Not too long ago, large businesses realized that it was cheaper and more productive for computer users to share resources. This meant that several computers could share access to certain software, a printer, and access to the Internet. All the computers, a printer, and Internet access were wired together to a master computer - a server. That was a network. Sometimes several groups shared a network or had networks of their own. Each separate group was a workgroup. All these networks required lots of wire to link everything together and this made the set-up of a network costly, timely and cumbersome. As computers became more accessible to small offices and homes, technology came to the rescue to replace costly wiring and so began the Wireless Network. Wireless networking has become an extremely popular way to connect the computers in a small office or home. Many PDA Pocket Organizers and Cellular Phones offer the capability to access wireless networks and, particularly, wireless Internet and e-mail. Many public areas, even several cities, are gearing up for wireless networks to expand communication capabilities.
How do you overcome wires?
Connecting devices together always seem to require wires. Setting up large Ethernet networks, for example, requires technicians to run wires up walls, over ceilings, and around the floor to connect all the devices that the Workgroup share. Two main technologies were developed to try to overcome the dependence of wires.
Radio Frequencies (RF)
In the 1800's, electrical signals (passed through antennas or some other type of link) allowed wireless communication. This technology led to radio and communication was channeled by the frequency of the signals. Higher frequencies meant farther range and greater clarity. In the 1970's, home telephones got rid of the cord connecting the handset with the base. The cord was replaced by radio frequencies being shuttled from the base to the handset, and back again. Radio signals can pass through walls and, essentially, remain invisible unless received by an RF receiver.
In the 1960's, a device called a remote control was developed. It's most popular use was to control a television. Prior to remote, you had to get up and go to the TV set to change channels, adjust the loudness, modify the picture. With a remote control you could make all those adjustments while seated on the sofa. Wireless communication used a form of light, invisible to humans, Infrared. This signal did not go through walls so control needed to be in 'line of sight' between the remote and the receiver on the TV set. Infrared is used in most television remote control systems, and with a standard called IrDA (Infrared Data Association) it's used to connect some computers with peripheral devices, such as printers.
How does wireless networking work?
Instead of wires, radio-frequency (RF) signals communicate between computers and printers to share information. Radio frequencies can go through walls to allow different office setups. There is a loss of speed in transferring data. A wired network can send information at speeds from 10 million to 1 billion bits of information per second. Most wireless networks in use transfer information at a rate up to 2 million bits per second. One should consider, however, that homes and small offices might not require that much speed but, as your group and needs expand, 2 million bits per second may seem mighty slow. New technologies continue to develop. New wireless networks are becoming available that can achieve speeds up to 10 to 50 million bits per second.
Each computer needs to be outfitted with a wireless network interface. There are internal models for desktop computers and external models for use with notebook computers. An internal device may be a card that fits into a PCI expansion slot inside a computer. An external device may be a little box that connects to a USB or Firewire port found in most computers or a PCMCIA (PC-Card) slot found in most notebook or portable computers. There are also interfaces for use with sharing printers or scanners.
A wireless network group may also share access to a broadband Internet service. This requires a device known as a wireless Internet router.
The hardware and software of a wireless network must be compatible to a certain standard in order to function properly.
Wireless Network Standards
The recognized standard used for wireless networking is IEEE 802.11. IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an organization, founded in 1963, that is involved with setting standards for computers and communication devices. Wireless Network products, like their wired Ethernet counterparts, use the RJ45 port of initial connectivity. "Connected" wireless products can free themselves from a wired router connection by encodeing a specific address of the wireless router. Many interface ports meet IEEE standards (i.e. IEEE-1394 is a Firewire or iLink port).
The current IEEE standards are:
802.11 - RF Signals use 900MHz wireless band. Speeds are up to 2 million bits of information per second. This first system is very affordable and is popular for home use.
802.11a - RF Signals use new 5.8GHz wireless band. Speeds can reach as high as 54 million bits of information per second. This also has the most possible channels, offering greater security and protection from interference.
802.11b - RF Signals use 2.4GHz wireless band. Speeds tend to reach up to 11 million bits per second. This is currently (2002) the most recognized standard being used to meet WiFi requirements.
802.11g - Introducted in 2003, this is designed to produce data transfer speeds greater than 20 million bits per second. Several manufacturers that are preparing hardware for 802.11g are touting a 54 million bit per second maximum speed. This standard uses the 2.4GHz wireless band and will also be backward compatible to 802.11b protocols. 802.11g is also backward compatible to 802.11n but at its "g" rate.
802.11n - Originally, the 2009 standard, 802.11n tripled speed along one channel up to 150MB per second over 802.11g, when used with 802.11n compatible routers and other peripherals. Later, 802.11n adopted a 2-channel bonded approach. In 802.11n, bonding utilizes two adjacent Wi-Fi channels simultaneously to double the bandwidth of the wireless link compared to 802.11b/g. The 802.11n standard specifies 300 Mbps theoretical bandwidth is available when using channel bonding. Without it, about 50% of this bandwidth is lost (actually slightly more due to protocol overhead considerations), and 802.11n equipment will generally report connections in the 130-150 Mbps rated range in those cases.
802.11ac - This 2012 standard will add significantly more speed to wireless networking and will be common in 2013. Theoretically, this specification will enable multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1 Gigabit per second and a maximum single link throughput of at least 500 megabits per second (500 MB/s). This is accomplished by extending the air interface concepts embraced by 802.11n: wider RF bandwidth (up to 160 MHz), more MIMO spatial streams (up to 8), multi-user MIMO, and high-density modulation (up to 256 QAM).
The buzzword for Wireless Network (and communication) products is WiFi or Wireless Fidelity. It's targeted for more widespread use, particularly in office environments. It adheres to a new IEEE standard, 802.11b, and is part of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA).
WiFi makes use of two newly established radio frequencies made available by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 2.4GHz and 5GHz. This enables wireless-networking speeds to reach 11 million bits of information per second or higher. All products that are WiFi compatible can use the WiFi logo and there are currently over 500 WiFi certified products. Backed by hundreds of leading computer manufacturers (including IBM, Apple, Intel, and AT&T), it is believed that over 60 million computers may be WiFi compatible by the end of 2004.
It can perform the same functions that the SWAP wireless network can do, only a lot faster - at 10-times the operating range.
The operating range of WiFi is about 1,000 feet in open areas and up to 400 feet in closed areas, when using 802.11b. The operating range almost doubles with 802.11a. This extended range open a vast range of possibilities. Many public areas can be outfitted with WiFi antennas to extend the wireless operating range for use in public areas. Using WiFi for Internet access from your portable computer, you can go online and send email from airports, hotels, and coffee shops. Recently Starbucks added WiFi networking facilities in many of their cafes. This may be the fastest-growing segment of WiFi service, as more and more travelers and mobile professionals clamor for fast and secure Internet access wherever they are. Athens, Georgia is currently working towards making their city fully WiFi compatible. San Francisco, California, is also showing interest. It's likely that many other areas will soon follow.
WiFi devices can also work alongside wired networking environments found in large offices. Corporations and college campuses can use enterprise-level technology with WiFi wireless products to extend standard wired Ethernet networks to public areas like meeting rooms, classrooms, auditoriums, dormitories, and other buildings. Many corporations also provide wireless networks to their off-site and telecommuting workers to use at home or in remote offices.
Computers, Audio Systems, and Video Systems have lots of peripheral devices that connect by wires and cables. Did you ever look in back of your computer desk? It looks like a major tangle of wires. Each wire has a particular connector and each connector follows certain protocols. Bluetooth's aim is to get rid of those wires. Companies that manufacture computers, entertainment systems and other electronic devices have realized that the incredible array of cables and connectors involved in their products may frighten most consumers. Setting up computers and home-theater systems when the person buying the equipment has to learn and remember all the details of what wire goes from where to where.
Bluetooth's main focus is to replace wire connectivity among various different devices, developing a standard by which all components can communicate with one another, efficiently, using no wires to send signals. This standard is used to help refine wireless communications; overcoming weaknesses posed by Infrared and RF. There are currently over 800 products that can work with Bluetooth wireless technology. A product containing Bluetooth wireless technology and designed for end users is generally listed as a Bluetooth End Product. It currently complies with IEEE-802.11b wireless frequency standards. This standard operates at 2.4GHz RF frequencies, which have many channels and use Digital Spread Spectrum channel selection. This means that if many devices are used within an area, signal interference is virtually eliminated to assure smooth, clear communication among Bluetooth-enabled devices.
The devices used in a Bluetooth system are joined together as a personal-area network (PAN), or piconet (workgroup). Once a piconet is established, the members randomly hop frequencies in unison so they stay in touch with one another and avoid other piconets that may be operating in the same room.
Though Bluetooth can be found in connecting wireless keyboards and a wireless mouse to a PC, it's found on several hand held PDA organizers. Several manufacturers are beginning to make Bluetooth adapters for home and portable computers so, like WiFi, Bluetooth may be a formidable partner in wireless networking too.
Intel Centrino - Designed for increased mobility for the Wireless user
Perhaps the most significant contribution to wireless networking will come from Intel. They plan to introduce their new Centrino products, in 2003, for use in notebook computers. The Centrino platform will integrate a dual band wireless solution that delivers both 802.11a and 802.11b wireless connectivity. With Intel Centrino, three Intel components are optimized for wireless freedom and mobility: the Intel Pentium M Processor (used in most PC notebook computers), Intel 855 chipset family, and the Intel PRO/Wireless network connection. Formerly named Banias, the new Centrino series is an innovative technological solution that delivers cutting-edge system performance and low-power enhancements to enable extended battery life in notebook PCs. When combined with integrated wireless connectivity and standards-based security support, the Intel Centrino contributes increased efficiency for the mobile user. Intel has also offered support for the WiFi wireless standard.
Microsoft developments for implementing wireless technology
Microsoft has developed operating system software that is compatible with wireless capabilities.
Windows XP for Tablet PC is an operating system that is designed for a new class of portable computer. Known as the Tablet PC, the monitor is touch-sensitive and permits writing in to the computer using your own handwriting. With wireless adaptability, you can transfer data back and forth with a PC.
The Smart Display is a completely wireless monitor developed for use with a PC operating with Windows XP Professional. The monitor has 802.11b compatibility built-in. When used with a PC that has also been equipped with an 802.11b or 802.11g adapter, you can access all the functions of your computer from anywhere within range of the wireless network.
The Wireless Apple
Apple Macintosh desktops and PowerBooks revolutionized the industry with the development of the AirPort card, a proprietary wireless system. It is 802.11b compatible. New models will also offer the option of Bluetooth compatibility.
More manufacturers are busy producing wireless adapters for computers and other devices. These include internal and external adapters.
Setting Up a Wireless Network
The SWAP system is the easier of the two. No central hub is required. It communicates Peer-to-Peer. All you need is to outfit each of the computers with a wireless interface card that behaves like a radio. Each card can communicate with the other card on the computer or peripheral (printer) in the network.
WiFi also uses a Peer-to-Peer connectivity and requires a WiFi compatible wireless interface card to be connected to each networked device. Because of its extended range it can also operate through a Gateway or Access Point. A Gateway, like that of a wired network, offers the increased ability of better administration along the network, for better security, and for other features. Access Points allows your wireless network to easily connect to other networks, wired or wireless. Another device, a network Router, may also double as an Access Point.
The wireless router is becoming one of the most popular accessories in a wireless network. It helps allow several hundred users share access to a broadband (Cable or DSL) Internet Service Provider. It also allows connection with a wired Ethernet network environment. In some cases, a Firewall security system is included to prevent outsiders from infiltrating your group.
WiFi and Bluetooth are coordinating wireless standards. Products that comply with WiFi will automatically work with other WiFi-friendly models. Products that comply with Bluetooth will work with other Bluetooth friendly products.
Wireless technologies in connecting computer networks and computer systems are relatively new. The earliest RF or IrDA systems became popular around 2000. By 2001, many SWAP-based systems became available. Though slower than wired Ethernet network systems, improved RF access is making the speed gap narrower. For homes, for small and medium office workgroups, wireless connectivity and Internet access is like a dream come true. For individuals, working on the road, it's making things much easier.
Both Apple and Windows computers have grasped onto the foundations of wireless connectivity, networking, and Internet access. Though several wireless networks are currently being used in homes or among small workgroups, several cities and regions are currently exploring opportunities to help make this technology more widely available. Professional and consumer interest is consistently growing and more manufacturers are developing products that are WiFi and/or Bluetooth compatible.
Using advanced, high frequency wireless channels, WiFi and Bluetooth are currently competing for compatible products and share of the marketplace. WiFi currently is compatible with both 802.11a and 802.11b protocol while Bluetooth relies mostly on 802.11b. If popular, 802.11g might also be included. Like various cellular phone networks, it's likely that these standards will coexist for some time to come. It's likely that all major operating systems (Windows, Apple OS, Palm OS, LINUX) will offer support for either or both of these systems.
For now, based on current market saturation, 802.11b wireless devices provide satisfactory performance for most people. If faster speeds are required, upgrading to 802.11g or 802.11a is a worthwhile consideration. As a user, working with Bluetooth or with WiFi wireless protocols offer features that provide lots of comfort and simplicity:
When traveling, you don't have to worry about keeping track of a briefcase full of cables to attach all of your components, and you can design your office without wondering where all the wires will go.
Bluetooth doesn't require you to do anything special to make it work. The Bluetooth compatible devices find one another and are ready to communicate automatically.
With increased market share, these devices will become more affordable.
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