TECH TALK: The Real Wireless Revolution: Wi-Fi (Part 2)

In the US, many groups have also set up free “underground” wireless networks. The will set up a network access point in their home or office, and make it available for access to anyone who has a Wi-Fi network card. From the network access point, there is typically a cable modem, DSL or other form of high-speed connectivity to the Internet. The access points cost about USD 130-150 (about Rs 7,000), while the 802.11 cards for the computers cost less than USD 100 (Rs 5,000). These costs are dropping further as demand increases. In addition, many universities also offer community wireless networks. Hotels, airports and other “hotspots” offer network access for a fee.

Today’s 802.11b networks are still for a short-range only. Besides, access is still not seamless and the technology is still evolving. But there are enough indications that Wi-Fi is emerging as a technology which offers immense promise, along with higher speeds in the years to come.

Writes Elisa Batista in Wired News:

So many companies are putting up wireless LANs that a recent report by investment research firm ARCchart found that WLAN providers could pose a risk to the success of next-generation (3G) wireless operators. The research firm said WLANs could eat up as much as 64 percent of 3G revenues in the next four years.

Although 3G would give mobile-device users access to the Internet at a speed of up to 2 Mbps — WLANs, such as the popular 802.11b (Wi-Fi) standard, boast speeds of at least 11 Mbps.

Meanwhile, as if there weren’t enough WLAN standards out there, network infrastructure providers Intersil (ISIL) and Cisco Systems (CSCO) said they would begin designing 802.11g products.

Unlike Wi-Fi and 802.11a WLANs — which run at speeds up to 54 Mbps but are not compatible with Wi-Fi (802.11b) products — 802.11g would offer wireless data at 54 Mbps and be compatible with 802.11b.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

has approved the specifications for 802.11g
but won’t make it an official standard until early next year.
The first 802.11g products aren’t expected to come to market until the middle of 2003, members of the industry say.

Writes Paul Boutin in Salon, providing a realistic picture of Wi-Fi in the US:

Wi-Fi Nation is on indefinite hold, at least until computer-carrying consumers can roam beyond the invisible tether of the base station at the office, or the AirPort in the family den. With tens of millions of customers ready to be wireless by next year, and the price of a Wi-Fi laptop dropping below $1,000, why isn’t ATT setting up antennae for us, instead of shutting down its Digital Broadband service?

The answer is less about technology than the shifting flows of capital in the 21st century. The wireless Internet won’t be rolled out telecom-style, like DSL or cable modems. In the wake of embarrassing failures to create top-down networks, it will be built from the ground up, by a patchwork quilt of players. Imagine the gradual knitting together of cellular roaming service in the ’90s, but with 10,000 antenna owners rather than 10 giant carriers. Rather than risking billions of investors’ dollars on a ubiquitous rollout, entrepreneurs will play for smaller stakes in more proven local or niche markets: When we come, they will build it.

Think of the Internet and the potpourri of networks and ISPs who are out there in the early days. Over time, these networks run by the smaller providers got consolidated and a seamless network emerged. In the US, Boingo Wireless is trying to build just such a virtual wireless ISP.

From an emerging point of view, the promise of 802.11 is in its capabilities to enable the creation of a high-bandwidth grassroots network. Today, in India, wide-area bandwidth is still limited to, for all practical purposes, to 64-128 Kbps (assuming one only wants to pay reasonable sums of money!) This is where 802.11 can come in and change the game dramatically.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.