Wireless Networking

When workstations must wander around, or where it's just too expensive to string wire, wireless is the way to go.

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Finally, wireless networking becomes practical. With the introduction of equipment meeting the 802.11b specification wireless is capable of speeds equivalent to 10BaseT (10 Megabit/sec) wired networks, and, different vendor's products are achieving interoperability.

Does this mean wired networking is on the endangered species list? Hardly. Wired networks being installed now are way cheaper, and 10 times as fast (and Microsoft will see to it you really need all that speed). But, wireless networks will play a rapidly expanding role.

Wireless comes in three distinct versions:

  • Infrared, using a light beam to connect two points. It's main use is to span the gap between two buildings.
  • Beamed Microwave, filling a roll similar to Infrared, but over much longer distances. Requires FCC license to operate.
  • Spread Spectrum, used for roving workstations and general convenience use. No FCC license required.

The purposes of Infrared and Beamed Microwave are obvious and need no discussion here, so we will consider only Spread Spectrum roving wireless.

Spread Spectrum was invented (and patented) by actress Hedy Lamarr and classical composer George Antheil as a secure means of radio transmission (to the eternal dismay of geeks and techies everywhere). We need not discuss the intricacies of the technology, but merely point out it allows flooding a volume of space with signal, in which space multiple devices can work without interfering with each other.

A "base station" acts as a hub for the wireless system and can service workstations within about a 200 foot radius (depending on building architecture and other environmental factors). The base station is connected by wire to the wider network. This is a shared Ethernet connection, so overall performance depends on how many workstations are using the network simultaneously.

820.11b networks are subject to interference from other devices using the 2.4-GHz band, primarily microwave ovens, cordless phones and X-10 devices. These should be excluded from the area of your wireless network cells.

Currently, the major use of wireless networks is in warehouses, where wireless hand held data collection terminals are in common use within inventory control systems. Another rapidly growing application is in medical facilities where staff must move from patient to patient, taking their data system with them. Many more applications will be added now that wireless devices are capable of decent data speeds, and as equipment costs continue to decline.

©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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