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I-Series Computing Concepts
Stephen Haag, University of Denver
Maeve Cummings, Pittsburg State University
Alan I Rea, Jr., Western Michigan University

Nuts And Bolts Of Networks And Computers

Wireless Standards

"I've seen the future -- and it's wireless" is what many of digital technology's gurus are saying. The two types being talked about at the moment are Bluetooth and WiFi.

The idea of wireless connections is that you can link all the digital devices you have together. That means that computers, printers, PDAs, CD and DVD players will be able to talk to each other. So you could send music from your living room stereo system to your music system in the car outside your house. You could turn on home appliances, like the thermostat or the lights, via the Internet. You would no longer have to have your DVD player near you to watch a movie, you could send the movie to any television or computer screen in your building.

Bluetooth is touted as ideal for establishing quick networks in meetings or among members of a workgroup who need to share applications or exchange files. It's also promising to replace cables used to connect your PC to PDAs, printers, cell phones, etc. The biggest current problem with Bluetooth is that it's still largely on the drawing board -- there aren't many Bluetooth devices on the market.

The other wireless standard is WiFi or IEEE 802.11b which is also a standard for wireless control of devices. It's a way of building devices so that even if the devices are from different manufacturers, they can work together. It's sort of similar to the outlets in your home -- you can plug any appliance into any outlet. Similarly, WiFi-enabled devices can "talk" to each other.

We are already connected when it comes to computers. We can connect them to each other at home, at work, across the state or across the world. So the visionaries asked "Why not connect other digital devices also?" and so WiFi came to be.

Many of the major manufacturers of digital equipment already have WiFi products on the market. The list includes Cisco, Sony, Phillips, and AOL Time Warner. Microsoft is also lending its support and has designed Windows XP to accommodate wireless networking easily. Bill Gates has even said that WiFi technology is one of the most important advances in the last five years and will be "explosive in its impact."

WiFi uses the same radio frequency as some cordless phones, but can carry information ten times faster than a cable modem. You'd start with a base station and then your devices -- DVD player, robot, dishwasher, computer -- would be fitted with antennas and software so that they could communicate with the base station. The typical range would be about 300 feet.

One of the biggest obstacles to the spread of WiFi is its lax security. It's pretty easy to access someone's wireless network. Another problem is that the standard is still changing so that something you buy today may not work with a device you buy next year. Even now, a new version of WiFi is emerging called 802.11a which is much faster but is not compatible with the 802.11b type of WiFi.

However, despite these and other difficulties, we're likely to be seeing more and more wireless-ready devices. As they become cheaper and easier to install, more people will buy them, providing incentive to manufacturers to build more, so that more people buy, and so on and so on.

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