Wireless LANs Reach Round 2

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

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Paul DeBeasi, a Burton Group analyst in Milford, Mass., said that with the addition of 802.11n and other standards being developed for functions such as roaming and wireless network management, “Wi-Fi will be really reliable, predictable and high performance.” It’s hard to forecast, though, when those standards will be adopted by users, he added.

Gartner Inc. analyst Philip Redman predicted that 802.11n-based technology won’t be widely installed until 2012, even if the IEEE meets its current schedule for approving the proposed standard.

And Bob Egan, an analyst at TowerGroup in Needham, Mass., said he thinks security concerns will continue to haunt Wi-Fi networks and limit their growth, particularly among large companies. “WLANs have had a very hype-driven ramp-up in homes, hot spots and municipal networks, and only certain parts of the business,” Egan said.

At some companies, WLANs have become so commonplace that many workers never need to use wired connections anymore. For example, about 5,000 workers at Intel Corp.’s Jones Farm office campus near Portland, Ore., rely on a WLAN “for mission-critical uses and use it as their primary network,” said Brian Tucker, Intel’s mobile marketing manager. “The majority do fine on wireless.” Not a Full Replacement

Intel is working with Cisco Systems Inc. to promote next-generation uses for WLANs, and the chip maker has announced plans to release a Centrino mobile chip with 802.11n support in the first half of 2007, without waiting for the IEEE to approve the standard. But Tucker acknowledged that WLANs are “not a replacement for Ethernet across all users.” He cited large number-crunching applications as one area where wireless networks fall short.

Roger Daniel, director of network infrastructure at North Carolina Central University in Durham, said the school uses a large wireless mesh network for applications such as transmitting video feeds to end users. It also is starting to test voice over Wi-Fi (see story, page 10).

But, Daniel said, “Wi-Fi will never replace our wired LAN, and we’re taking Gigabit Ethernet to each desktop, so 100 or more megabits over wireless doesn’t mean that much by comparison.” Wi-Fi’s primary value, he added, is that it provides “anytime access” to data and serves as “a cost-effective way of extending the LAN to the users.”

Nurses at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., could benefit from having dual-mode phones, which would be easier to carry than the separate voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets and cellular phones now used by about 500 medical workers, said John Tuman, director of network services at WakeMed.

Tuman also wants to use RFID tags to keep track of medical equipment and transmit the data generated by the tags via his Wi-Fi network. But the dual-mode and RFID technologies are just wish-list items for now, he said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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