July 5, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech

Technology News

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is working on a new standard for short-distance wireless networks. The Bluetooth Enhanced Data Rate standard will support nearly three times the bandwidth, as much as 2.1Mbps, according to chipmaker CSR. Details on the draft standard are available to SIG members at the Bluetooth SIG site .

Cellular carriers Vodafone, T-Mobile, Telecom Italia Mobile, Orange, Telefónica, NTT DoCoMo, O2, and Smart Communications have launched the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) alliance, an organization that aims to define standard application interface requirements for mobile device platforms. Although several of the carriers have investments in proprietary operating system platforms such as the Symbian OS and SavaJe, Ovum analyst Eden Zoller says the OMTP seems committed to open standards and to working with device makers rather than trying to impose a carrier cartel's technology on them. Zoller expects the first fruits of the effort to take at least 18 months to be seen.

The IEEE has formally ratified the 802.11i specification for encryption on wireless LANs. Devices compliant with the 802.11i spec will likely be certified as compliant with WPA2, the second generation of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), notes the Wi-Fi Alliance industry association that developed the WPA security standard about two years ago as an interim step between the notoriously easy-to-hack Wired Equivalency Protocol (WEP) encryption that the 802.11b standard relied on and then-still-forthcoming 802.11i standard. 802.11i's encryption protocols are based on the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and meet the limited encryption requirements for the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 specification for the protection of sensitive information. The new standard will add Layer 2 security to Wi-Fi devices, which should let most enterprises stop relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) as an alternative security method except when workers are connecting remotely. Although products based on the final 802.11i standard aren't expected until September, some products already support draft versions and will be upgradable via a software or firmware patch.

Product News

Intel and Proxim are teaming to deliver base-station and subscriber-unit access points for data, voice, and video services via fixed and portable broadband wireless access using the IEEE 802.16 standard popularly known as WiMax. The base stations will be based on the 802.16e standard that allows roaming across base stations.

Meru Networks is offering what it claims is the first Layer 3 wireless LAN architecture with no hand-off. Unlike other Layer 3 solutions, the Meru system does not force users to re-authenticate as they roam across access points and subnets, the company claims. A proprietary controller manages the Meru system over a network overlay.

For travelers, Netgear has released a "pocket" 802.11g wireless router, the WGR101, that includes both Network Address Translation (NAT) routing and Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) firewalls, IPSec and PPTP VPN pass-through, 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, and wireless SSID suppression. It can also be software-upgraded to WPA security. A three-mode switch lets users select between single-user and multi-user modes, simplifying configuration on the road when setting up ad-hoc wireless LANs in hotel and other facilities. The router connects to a standard Ethernet jack.

AT&T Wireless is offering what is says are the first ruggedized mobile PCs that support the Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution (EDGE) cellular data technology, which is the next step up from the Global Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology more commonly deployed. The EDGE field service offering includes the Hewlett-Packard Rugged Notebook nr3600 and the HP Rugged Tablet PC tr3000 with Dexterra's field-service application for industries such as telecommunications, utilities, health care, manufacturing, and transportation. The suite offers service management, real-time monitoring of service calls, service planning and scheduling, logistics management, up-sell and cross-sell capabilities, and financial processing in several industry-specific formats.

In other product news:

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The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

Wi-LAN's Lawsuit-Happy Strategy: Bad News for Wireless Marketplace

In an unfortunate policy, Wi-LAN has decided to increase its sales through lawsuits against makers of 802.11-based equipment. The company successfully sued Redline Communications, resulting in a settlement, over alleged patent violations. Emboldened, the company announced last week that it had bought 17 WiMax-related wide-area wireless patents from other firms and then sued Cisco Systems, claiming intellectual-property violations. Wi-LAN claims that its patents for advanced orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) are necessary for any hardware maker to implement the IEEE's 802.11a, 802.11g, and 802.16 (WiMax) standards correctly: "Wi-LAN has consistently maintained that its patents are necessary for the implementation of the second-generation Wi-Fi Alliance standards (IEEE 802.11a and 802.11g), the WiMax Forum standards (IEEE 802.16), and the ETSI BRAN HiperMAN. It is our intent to collect, either directly or through component manufacturers, royalties from any company selling 802.11a, 802.11g, or WiMax-certified equipment," the company said in a statement.

It seems bizarre to me that a company could get a patent for something specified in a standard, which by its very nature should be open technology for the use of everyone to ensure standards compliance. If that really is the case, the IEEE needs to rework the standards as soon as possible. (The IEEE declined to comment.) Otherwise, the standards bodies and the industry should immediately challenge these patents. The U.S. patent system is riddled with misguided patents issued for obvious and previously known techniques, and every few years a company such as Wi-LAN exploits this poorly managed patent system by threatening others for money. It would be called extortion if there weren't legal permission for it. I can't speak to the specifics of the lawsuit, not being a lawyer or patent expert, but Wi-LAN's aggressive campaign trumpeting its "new phase in its intellectual property licensing strategy" is simply appalling and merits the same angry customer reaction that similar tactics from SCO have evoked. Left unchecked, this strategy will hold wireless equipment makers hostage to the whims of one company, which will not benefit enterprises or consumers. Here's hoping the rest of the industry will come together and fight back, as is happening in the SCO front. Shun the bullies.

ABI: Wireless Starts to Rival T1 • RFID Poised for Livestock Use

Rivaling T1:Some wireless Internet service providers are now offering their customers highly competitive service offerings that appear to provide significant benefits when compared to top-tier fixed-line products, says Allied Business Intelligence. Competition will only become fiercer as wide-area WiMax wireless equipment becomes widely available. Companies such as TowerStream in the eastern U.S. and West Coast–based NextWeb provide new services and pricing plans which should prove very attractive to enterprise customers now using traditional T1 accounts.

According to Edward Rerisi, ABI Research's vice president of research, "TowerStream is offering 5Mbps for about $500 per month. [NextWeb's services scale up to 10 megabits.] Compare that to a T1 service typically offering only 1.5Mbps for about $900 a month. Companies like these offer better pricing, better speed, and fast provisioning to get the service up and running quickly." Rerisi acknowledges that the reliability of these wireless services isn't quite as high as that of T1, but it's close: "They're realizing 99.99% reliability instead of the 'five 9s' achieved by T1," he says.

These companies are built on a strategy of targeting densely populated business districts rather than entire regions or residential markets. As lower cost, interoperable WiMax gear becomes available in 2005, this model will be even more viable, ABI predicts.

Tracking Livestock: Meanwhile, ABI also sees growth in the radiofrequency identification (RFID) market. "One RFID market that's gaining a lot of momentum at present is animal tracking," says Sara Shah, an analyst at ABI Research. "Because of the BSE [bovine spongioform encephalopathy, popularly known as "mad cow disease"] outbreak in Europe, an RFID initiative to track animals was begun there." When the first cases of BSE were discovered in North America, investigations into their source revealed the lack of any standardized national tracking system for the movements of live cattle or beef products.

Other countries already have such systems in place. In Australia, a major beef supplier, a mandatory RFID-based National Livestock Identification Scheme has been in place since 2002. Shah says that in Europe the system is still being set up, and livestock growers and vendors have a grace period to purchase the technology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) to cover most forms of livestock. While a number of technologies ranging from retinal scans to genetic ID are shortlisted for use in such a system, RFID tagging is a leading contender, and is recommended by the U.S. Animal Identification Plan's Beef and Dairy Working Groups. With tens of millions of cows in the U.S. market at any given time, but only an estimated 2% now RFID-tagged, this represents a very sizeable growth potential for the RFID market, ABI predicts.


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