Wi-Fi Basics

The wireless local area networking concept known as Wi-Fi began infiltrating the business, manufacturing and consumer worlds at the end of the 1990s. With the Wi-Fi Alliance certifying interoperability of products, the concept is redefining how the world

In manufacturing and logistics, the early adopters are reporting significant productivity gains (UPS cites 35%) while eliminating the time and cost of installing and maintaining wires and cables of conventional networks. Customers are better served, too. The interest level is also rising in U.S. households. More than a third already have more than one PC and high-speed broadband Internet access. (In February, market researcher Gartner Inc. predicted PC sales would rise 13% in the first quarter fueled by consumers attracted by improved portable and wireless products.) While analysts excitedly describe the rapidly soaring market, the technology is also literally taking off with the help of Boeing Co. By the end of the year, passengers on Lufthansa, Japan Airlines and the Scandinavian Airlines System will be able to enjoy Wi-Fi enabled broadband Internet access. With Boeing's Connexion service, each plane becomes a Wi-Fi "hot spot" that can wirelessly connect Wi-Fi equipped laptops to the Internet. Fees are projected to range from $10 for transcontinental flights to $30 across the globe. Wi-Fi literacy begins with appreciating the alphabet soup of standards developed, beginning in 1997, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The original 802.11 standard continues to be enhanced with each version identified by letters as in 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g. 802.11b: The most common standard, approved in July 1999, is 802.11b, which denotes data transfers at a maximum rate of 11 megabits per second (Mbps). Frequencies: 2.4-2.497 gigahertz (GHz). 802.11a: Also approved in July 1999, is 802.11a. Its maximum data transmission rate at 54 Mbps on different, less crowded frequencies of 5.15-5.35, 5.425-5.675 and 5.725-5.875 GHz. 802.11g: Work on 802.11g began in July 1999, when the IEEE subcommittee took on the task of raising data rates in the unlicensed 2.4-2.497 GHz spectrum. The result, which was approved in June 2003, as 802.11g, has a top data transmission rate of 54 Mbps. The consensus is that 802.11g will encroach and gradually eclipse 802.11b. The 802.11g standard was designed to be backward-compatible thus enabling adapters and routers to communicate with 802.11b equipment. Industry consensus: 802.11g with its advantages of speed and backward compatibility will provide compelling advantages to Wi-Fi products. Above all, the new Wi-Fi local area network provides flexibility, connectivity, mobility and affordability that is not available through conventional wired solutions, concludes Broadcom Corp., Irvine, Calif.

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