Wireless LANs Reach Round 2

New technologies create potential to expand network uses; cost, security concerns may slow some upgrades

Wireless LANs have grown in the workplace — in size, number of installations and technology maturity — to the point that many IT managers now expect to expand the uses of their networks in a new round of investments within the next year or two.

Expansion plans include providing users with significantly increased bandwidth via the proposed 802.11n standard and deploying dual-mode phones that support both voice-over-Wi-Fi and cellular calls, according to interviews with 10 IT managers who run WLANs at companies, medical facilities and universities.

But not everyone is ready to take the plunge. Some of the IT managers said hardware upgrade costs and lingering concerns about wireless security will put a damper on the addition of features to their WLANs. And several analysts voiced doubts about how quickly large companies will adopt 802.11n, dual-mode phones and other upcoming wireless innovations. Pushing Ahead

Smith: BP plans a 'second round' of WLAN investments.

Smith: BP plans a "second round" of WLAN investments.BP PLC is among the companies looking to push ahead with wireless technology. An estimated 50,000 office workers at BP already have WLAN access. Now the London-based petroleum company plans a “second round” of projects, including the addition of separate wireless access support for visitors and contractors, said Curt Smith, BP’s director of application technologies.

BP is also undertaking a major wireless expansion at its refineries, production facilities and offshore drilling platforms, Smith said. Thus far, the company has installed wireless access points in two of 14 refineries, and it is starting to deploy mobile Wi-Fi hot spots on 500 trucks used by workers who service pipelines.

In addition, BP will start one or two tests of WiMax technology next year, probably at a refinery and a large oil field, Smith said. WiMax is expected to provide throughput of up to 15Mbit/sec. on mobile deployments and 40Mbit/sec. for fixed or portable applications, and it doesn’t require end-user devices to have a direct line of sight to a base station. BP hopes the technology could provide a less expensive alternative to installing more wireless access points, Smith said. He noted that access points can cost $5,000 apiece, a steep price given the complexities of installations at industrial sites, where up to 100 of the devices may be required to get suitable coverage now.

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