August 2, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech

Technology News

In September, an IEEE task group will examine technology proposals for the proposed 802.11n standard , which would permit wireless LANs with maximum throughput rates of about 100Mbps.

The IEEE is also working on the 802.11p standard , which improves the range and transmission speed on the dedicated 5.9GHz licensed band, promising around 1,000 feet and 6Mbps in average use. The vehicular communications protocol is aimed at vehicles, such as toll collection, vehicle safety services, and commerce transactions via cars. The U.S. government is pushing forward to cover the highways with access points that support this new type of extra-secure hot spots. Vehicles could have 802.11p-based transmitter/receivers as early as 2007.

The U.S. Army recently put into effect new guidelines to secure wireless LANs for use within the Army, requiring encryption at Layer 2 of the Open System Interconnect (OSI) network model to protect integrity at this layer. The revision (available as a PDF file ) to Army Regulation 25-2 requires that at a minimum all unclassified U.S. Army 802.11 wireless network traffic use FIPS 140-2 certified encryption at Layer 2, also known as the link layer.

Product News

Several hardware makers — including Belkin Systems, Buffalo Technology, Cisco Systems' Linksys subsidiary, and Hewlett-Packard — are using Broadcom's 125 High-Speed Access chip technology to offer speed boosts of up to 40% in 802.11g networks, without robbing bandwidth from adjacent 802.11g networks. Products using this nonstandard technology often require all access points and client devices to come from the same manufacturer, so they tend to be deployed in home and small offices.

T-Mobile and Hewlett-Packard plan to ship later this month a new iPaq that provides both Wi-Fi and cellular access in one device, the iPaq 6315. The handheld automatically detects Wi-Fi hot spots and connects to those for which you have login information set up. It works on any 802.11 network for which you have an account, not just the T-Mobile hot-spot network. When outside a Wi-Fi hot spot, the device provides data access over the T-Mobile GPRS network. The iPaq 6315 automatically switches between networks as needed. It also works as a cell phone over T-Mobile's GSM network. The companies say the data portion will be available at a flat rate (although pricing was not available at press time) covering Wi-Fi access, SMS messaging, GPRS access, and MMS multimedia messaging. The voice price will depend on the size of the bucket of minutes selected. Existing T-Mobile hot-spot subscribers will be able to use the same account for their PDA and notebook, essentially covering the notebook access under the iPaq coverage plan, though the T-Mobile system will not let both devices log in simultaneously. Both companies expect to partner with other firms to deliver similar services on a range of carriers and devices in the future.

Meru Networks has introduced System Director version 2.0, which the company says is the first self-optimizing wireless LAN system with one-touch installation. Existing customers can upgrade at no charge. The system requires the use of Meru access points and that the network administrator initiate the reconfiguration, such as after adding or moving access points.

AT&T Wireless, which is being sold to Cingular Wireless, plans to provide third-generation (3G) cellular phones and service based on WCDMA technology (part of the GSM family) in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Phoenix, and Detroit by year's end. The company estimates throughput of 200Kbps to 300Kbps. The service would cost an extra $25 per month for phone users and $80 per month for notebook users. Cingular offers slower high-speed service using the GSM-based GPRS and EDGE technologies throughout much of the country, though its rates are based on megabyte usage rather than flat rates. AT&T Wireless is fairly late to the 3G game. For example, Verizon Wireless plans to have similar high-speed access available in a third of its markets by year's end, though service is now available only in San Diego and Washington D.C. The Verizon service runs at 300Kbps to 500Kbps and is based on the CDMA2000 1XEVDO technology; its costs are similar to AT&T's. Sprint PCS has offered 3G service for over a year across most of the U.S. and also offers modems that switch between 3G and Wi-Fi service. Nextel has offered cellular Internet access, though at modem-like speeds, for several years, and is now running a test of a 1.5Mbps-maximum-throughput service based on Flarion's Flash OFDM technology in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

In other product news:

Hot-Spot News

SBC will provide hot-spot service at 300 Caribou Coffee outlets in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. SBC also inked roaming agreements with Concourse Communications, Mexico's Telmex, and Wise Technologies, in addition to an earlier agreement with Wayport.

T-Mobile will update its hot-spot network this summer so all locations have 802.1x authentication available to help secure access to corporate sites.

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The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

Summit Strategies: Wireless Growth Opportunities in Small Business

Small and medium businesses — a group known by the industry acronym SMB — are likely to adopt wireless technology even faster than large enterprises, according to a recent report by Summit Strategies analyst Warren Wilson. Among the major systems and software platform vendors targeting such smaller companies, IBM is head and shoulders above the rest, he says. IBM has identified 10 industries as top opportunities for mobile/wireless SMB-focused solutions: health care and life sciences; insurance; consumer packaged goods; communications; banking; financial services; retail; electronics; automotive parts suppliers; and fabrication and assembly. IBM has already created packaged solutions in several of these categories and is working on more. It has also identified additional candidates.

The two vendors best positioned to compete with IBM for the mobile/wireless SMB market are Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, Wilson concludes, but so far neither has devoted comparable resources. HP included a mobile/wireless program in an SMB program it launched in fall 2003, but it is difficult to discern any momentum behind this program. Microsoft is building a wireless sales and marketing team but so far hasn't aligned this team according to vertical industry or customer size.

Although IBM, HP, and Microsoft are (or could be) the main purveyors of soup-to-nuts mobile/wireless solutions for smaller businesses, many other vendors are competing in this market as well. Some, such as Cisco Systems and Sybase (with its iAnywhere subsidiary) are large enough to anchor their own ecosystems and alter the market's competitive dynamics, Wilson says. Cisco, for example, recently purchased residential wireless-access-point vendor Linksys to make a stronger push for small businesses. Linksys has launched a new value-added reseller program to drive its products into the small-office market — targeting companies with 25 or fewer users — and has developed a new hosted wireless LAN security service aimed at small businesses. Sybase/iAnywhere holds a commanding position in the market for mobile database applications, and its technology includes a variety of small-business-friendly attributes, Wilson says, including a small footprint and ease of use. Sybase has built a strong network of channel partners — including original equipment manufacturers, value-added resellers, and integrators — with which it attacks the SMB market.

A variety of smaller vendors are pursuing novel channel opportunities and/or are establishing themselves in specialty areas such as wireless LANs that may make them attractive as partner or acquisition candidates, Wilson says. Interlink Networks, for example, recently announced a new WLAN security offering designed specifically for smaller businesses.

Overall, Summit Strategies believes the market for SMB mobile/wireless solutions is just taking off and will likely reach a size that can accommodate a large number of participants. Even IBM, though ahead of the pack, is still in the relatively early stages of packaging SMB solutions, Wilson concludes. Vendors willing to tailor their offerings and go-to-market strategies to smaller businesses' unique needs will find plenty of opportunity, he says.

Frost & Sullivan: Assessing Broadband Wireless Technologies

Frost & Sullivan's analysis of several newer broadband wireless technologies has led it to the following conclusions:

WCDMA is the dominating 3G technology, providing higher capacity for voice and data and higher data rates. WCDMA uses a new spectrum with a 5MHz carrier, providing 50 times higher data rate than in present GSM networks (and 10 times higher data rate than in GPRS networks). WCDMA handles up to 2Mbps for local area access or 384Kbps for wide area access. A coming release will include enhancements up to more than 10Mbps. WCDMA, also known as UMTS, and has been adopted as a standard by the International Telecommunications Union under the name IMT-2000 direct spread. The gradual evolution from today's systems is driven by demand for capacity, which is required by new and faster data-based mobile services. WCDMA enables better use of available spectrum and more cost-efficient network solutions. Carriers can gradually evolve from GSM to WCDMA, protecting investments by reusing the GSM core network and its 2G/2.5G services.

With all of the promises that ultrawideband (UWB) technology holds for the future of the digital consumer and the "connected home," it is the Multi-Band Coalition that is spearheading this historic process and driving the standardization for the ideal UWB technology for the IEEE 802.15.3a standard. These efforts will ultimately help provide an industry standard, which will propel the high-volume market for UWB-equipped consumer devices, PCs, and PC peripherals. If all goes well, it is expected that the standard will be finalized by April 2005, with standards-compliant silicon solutions also available within the same period. UWB is expected to first see use in consumer applications within the home, with several companies already using the technology to develop applications allowing DVD-quality video content to be streamed around the home. In business, videoconferencing is a likely early application.

In the short term, the rise of Wi-Fi will have a detrimental effect on the rollout of 3G cellular technology, which is more expensive, slower, and less available. Wireless LANs provide speeds of 11Mbps (802.11b) to 54Mbps (802.11g and 802.11a), about 20 times the speed that 3G could offer. A typical hot spot costs less than $200, compared with the $500,000 to $1 million cost of a 3G base station. With a comparison like that, wireless carriers are kicking themselves, wishing they had known about Wi-Fi before they spent $100 billion on 3G spectrum. Some portion of the carriers' money, then, will start to move away from traditional 3G infrastructure and into wireless LAN equipment — Sprint is already doing that in the U.S. There is no denial that the world will still need 3G to fill in the gaps between hot spots, which are likely to be pretty large. After all, no one is under the impression that the entire world will be covered by wireless LANs, 150 feet at a time, or even by the forthcoming WiMax metro-area hot-zone technology.

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