Top five wireless stories of 2009

As another calendar year comes to a close, I wanted to recap what I thought were the most significant stories of the year in the field of wireless networking & security.

5. Ubiquitous free Wi-Fi hotspots.  Earlier this month, McDonalds announced that they would be offering free Wi-Fi in more than 11,000 of their locations.  Wi-Fi is actually nothing new to McDonald's - they've had paid wireless in their stores for quite some time under an agreement with Wayport.  The significant change is that service is now free.  This actually follows a larger trend.  Other examples of this trend is Starbucks' decision to migrate from paid to free Wi-Fi (when you register a "MyStarbucks Rewards" card) and Google's sponsorship of free Wi-Fi within 47 airports over the holiday season. 

4. Broad adoption of in-flight Wi-Fi.  Free Wi-Fi within the airports is just the tip of the iceberg.  2009 ushered in an era of wide spread adoption of Wi-Fi service *onboard airplanes*.  Several major carriers such as United & American Airlines have implemented in-flight Wi-Fi while others such as Continental have committed to follow suit in 2010. 

3.  Acquisitions and IPOs.  The wireless LAN market is growing.  Some smaller companies are being acquired while others are working to become publically traded on the stock market.  Earlier this year, Fluke Networks acquired wireless company AirMagnet.  This follows major acquisitions in late 2008 including Motorola's addition of AirDefense and HP's pick-up of Colubris. On the IPO front, WLAN manufacturer Meru networks just filed paperwork with the Security Exchange Commission to become publically traded within the first half of 2010. 

2.  Mi-Fi.  At this point, we have already established that Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up everywhere, including onboard airplanes.  With the advent of Mi-Fi, anyone can carry their own Wi-Fi hotspot and set up shop almost anywhere they'd like.  A Mi-Fi device is about the size of a stack of credit cards, weighs just 2 ounces, and allows up to 5 simultaneous Wi-Fi connections.  Mi-Fi routes your connection through a 3G cellular backhaul which, in all practicality, allows for Wi-Fi hotspots anywhere you can get a cellular signal. 

1. 802.11n ratification.  Bar none, the most significant event in the wireless world in the past year was the IEEE ratification of the 802.11n standard.  802.11n currently offers "wire-like" speeds of 100+ Mbps.  Beyond increased performance, 802.11n offers increased reliability, both of which make it much more likely to be adopted for enterprise use.  Even though the 802.11n standard was just ratified on September 11th 2009, the IEEE has formed the VHT (very high throughput) task force which will begin to draft a standard for wireless networking with a goal of Gigabit data transfer speeds over the coming years. 

Douglas J. Haider is a Principal Technologist with Xirrus. He hosts a personal blog at, and micro-blogs on Twitter @wifijedi

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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