Look Ma, No Wires!
by Bob Nunn
Mark my words, this will change the world as we know it. 802.11b. I want you to remember that sequence of characters. Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) worldwide industry standard is what it is, some call it Wi-Fi, and lord knows it needs a better name. Wireless broadband is another name and may be the best. This standard allows for interoperability with other 802.11-based equipment.
"Buy stocks while on the toilet from your laptop!"
What does this mean to you and me? Imagine being able to network your office without having to spend a fortune to have cables pulled. Imagine being able to rearrange the entire office without first having to budget having all of your ethernet network redone, and then wait for them to get it done. Imagine being able to buy stocks while on the toilet from your laptop, which somehow seems appropriate based on some of their market performances!
While Apple and Lucent <http://www.apple.com/airport/> may take credit for really pushing this technology and being some of the first ones out there with Apple's Airport (Airport is 802.11b), there is a lot of older technology that is slower and to be avoided. Remember 802.11b is 11 megabits per second. 11 megabits per second is faster that 10base-T networking. It is not as fast as 100base-T but for most home users and most business, 11 megabits per second is plenty fast. Some of the older wireless is only 1.2 megabits per second and may not be compatible. Many of these are on sale now for reasons apparent.
"For most home users and most business, 11 megabits per second is plenty fast"
Let's imagine some more. You have cable net access at home. Your son or daughter has a PC upstairs. To hook them to the Internet you have to run a network cable and set up a small network. I don't know about you but I don't like having holes drilled in my walls and floors. Enter 802.11b wireless. Just hook a base station to your cable modem, install the software and configure it. Add a card to the other PC's including any laptops and all of you now have Internet access. You can also share files, printers and other resources, all without wires!
802.11b also allows computers of all makes and models to communicate. Remember Apple's Airport. You can add a compatible 802.11b card to your PC and use the same network and vice versa. Let's say your main system is a PC and you want to use your Mac notebook with the system. No problem. Remember 802.11b is interoperable. The base units and cards talk with each other.
One of the better looking PC units is from LinkSys. LinkSys already has a big following in their DSL/Cable Routers. Go to: <http://www.linksys.com/products/product.asp?prid=157&grid=19> to learn more about what they have to offer. Availability is somewhat limited so you might want to look at the Dlink units at: <http://www.dlink.com/products/DigitalHome/Wireless/> The Dlink line is a bit more available and perhaps more economical.
Farallon makes an 802.11b card for older Apple laptops and they just introduced a PCI card that will fit many of the older Mac systems still in use. <http://www.farallon.com/> Of course the Airport cards work well in the latest models. Now you can network the Art Department along with the rest of the building.
"Wireless hubs offer DHCP which automatically assigns IP addresses to your systems"
802.11b uses radio signals to communicate through solid objects (unlike infrared signals that require an unobstructed line of sight to make a connection). You can surf the Internet even when your wife is blocking your view of the base station, depending on her mass and how much aviation grade titanium is in her girdle (or perhaps her new G4 Powerbook).
"You probably could use your laptop to surf the net from your neighbor's house"
Most all of the wireless hubs offer DHCP which automatically assigns IP addresses to your systems, so you don't have to remember a bunch of cryptic numbers or have special IP addresses available for the machines on your network. The wireless data that travels through the air is encrypted to avoid someone picking up your data stream and most use some type of authentication so your neighbors won't be using your Internet account, unless you let them, which is probably illegal. If you are close enough, you probably could use your laptop to surf the net from your neighbor's house. How secure? Well how secure is anything in this day. I have seen reports that hackers have already figured a way to de-crypt data. I probably wouldn't want my bank using it, but I wouldn't care if my doctor or dentist did.
You are going to see a lot more products become available. Already you can buy antennas and dishes that extend the range of your network. Right now indoors is limited to about 150-500 ft. and outdoors is limited to about 800-1600 ft.
Okay you should be sold by now. How much you might ask? Well a base station is roughly $300 and you need one of those. The PMCIA card for the laptop is roughly $150. A PCI card adapter is around $50, so for each desktop/tower system you want to add, you will have to have the PMCIA Card and the PCI adapter which will be roughly $200 a system. Keep in mind these are retail list prices and you can do much better if you shop around. Just make sure it says 802.11b. For more links on the subject including white papers go to: http://headgap.com/wireless.spml
TIP OF THE MONTH - Remember me mentioning that it is good to consider your audience when developing a web site? I found a great resource that will help you check your site to see how your customers are viewing your web pages. AnyBrowser.com allows you to view your pages in an emulation mode for many of the types of browsers out there. Your web designer should be doing the tests for real but it will let you check their work. I still can't believe how many web pages are designed by an "expert" on a 21" monitor in high res mode that make it onto the net. You have to preview your web site the way your customers will see it. <http://www.anybrowser.com>
Bob Nunn - President, Operator Headgap Systems
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