Wireless LANs Reach Round 2

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

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Wireless quality-of-service and security standards that were adopted last year have begun to give IT managers more confidence about the technology, helping to drive interest in pushing WLANs into new areas. Another highly sought-after standard is 802.11n, which could increase Wi-Fi throughput to up to 200Mbit/sec. — about four times what is possible now. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is expected to ratify 802.11n in early 2008, according to a project timeline page on the IEEE’s Web site.

WLANs are “growing and progressing fairly rapidly,” making it “extremely important” for users to have access to the performance promised by 802.11n, said Brad Sandt, lead network engineer at the Park Hill School District in Parkville, Mo. Sandt said that because WLANs are shared networks, adding more users results in slower throughput, “so any additional bandwidth is greatly welcomed.”

But Park Hill just installed a WLAN based on the current 802.11g technology in August. Sandt said he worries that upgrading the network, which has 725 access points, to 802.11n would cost too much too soon for the school district.

Sandt said he is also looking forward to installing dual-mode voice technology that supports both wireless and cellular calls. Most of Park Hill’s administrative staffers have to carry two or three devices to stay connected now, he said, whereas dual-mode phones could be used to make calls over the WLAN when workers were within its range and then convert to regular cellular service when necessary.

UPMC will give 3,300 workers dual-mode phones that support calls via both wireless and cellullar networks, according to Hanna.

Bill HannaSeamless communications between Wi-Fi and cellular installations is one of the goals of a $300 million network convergence project that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center announced last month. As part of the project, UPMC plans to provide dual-mode handsets to up to 3,300 workers, said Bill Hanna, the medical center’s vice president of IT infrastructure.

Nowak: 'If we figured it out, others can.'

Nowak: "If we figured it out, others can."UPMC operates 19 hospitals and about 400 doctors’ offices and other outpatient sites. Hanna said the dual-mode capabilities should help doctors and nurses as they move between buildings, since cellular service isn’t always effective in the mountainous region around Pittsburgh. Conversely, they could use cellular connections in areas where the health care provider didn’t have Wi-Fi links, he said. As part of a technology trial, about 50 workers at Anthony Marano Co., a fruit and produce distributor in Chicago, for the past 18 months have been using dual-mode phones made by Motorola Inc. Chris Nowak, the distributor’s IT director, said the phones have provided “substantial productivity gains” by letting users roam throughout the company’s WLAN-equipped warehouse and continue talking on a cellular network if they go outside to examine a delivery truck.

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