Asians Go Wi-Fi
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"Wi-Fi is growing and there is no holding back," says Peter Murray, president of Gemtek Systems Inc. (GSi). According to the chairman of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), Dennis Eaton, worldwide demand for Wi-Fi certified products continues to grow, requiring WECA to expand its certification capacity by fourfold since the first round of Wi-Fi Certified products was announced in March of 2000.
In a report by The Miami Herald, it stated In-Stat/MDR has projected that by 2005, worldwide sales of Wi-Fi equipment will surpass the US$5 billion mark. In 2001, worldwide sales of Wi-Fi equipment jumped 120 percent to US$1.78 billion from US$811 million in 2000 and US$254 million in 1999.
Before skeptics question if Wi-Fi (or 802.11b), an industry standard to ensure that different wireless solutions can interoperate in a wireless local area network (WLAN), is just another 'Western Import', here are some answers that will make them think otherwise.
"It is interesting to note that the majority of Wi-Fi equipment are manufactured in Asia. Samsung, Sony, Sharp, Fujitsu, Toshiba, NEC and Kyocera are just the start of the list of Asian companies actively involved in Wi-Fi and who have certified products in the marketplace," Murray explains.
According to Eaton, less than 30 percent of the 150-over WECA member companies (offering more than 370 Wi-Fi products) were from Asia a year ago. Today, Asia and North America each have an equal part of the WECA membership.
"At the current growth rate, we anticipate that the number of Asian-based WECA members will exceed the number of North American-based WECA members," he says.
The increased demand for Wi-Fi certification in Asia has also enabled WECA to begin certifying Wi-Fi products in Singapore and Taiwan. Two testing facilities for Wi-Fi products were also established in Tokyo, Japan and Singapore.
In countries such as Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, 'hotspots' are already available in airports, offices and conference centers. Mobile operators are also looking at the deployment of 'hotspots' using Wi-Fi for their own customers, says Murray.
In Singapore, telco provider StarHub has recently installed a 'hotzone' based on 802.11b standard in Suntec City, home to a shopping mall and exhibition center. This 'hotzone' is said to cover an area of 180,000 square meters or about the size of 28 international soccer fields.
While Singapore's largest telco, Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), has not yet formally launched Wi-Fi as a public service, it may do so soon, said a Dow Jones news report.
Be Wise, Go Wi-Fi
As Wi-Fi products continue to proliferate, it only makes pure business sense for companies to implement WLAN based on this prominent standard.
"There are, and will continue to be, WLAN devices in the market place that are not Wi-Fi certified," says Bonnie Cheong, vice president of Communications, GSI. These may work fine with Wi-Fi products initially. But problems will arise when new features are added to Wi-Fi products. Manufacturers of non Wi-Fi products will then find interoperability with Wi-Fi products a problem because of backward compatibility issues and so forth.
"Manufacturers of non Wi-Fi products can come up with similar features found in the Wi-Fi products. But they may not be able to produce such features as economically as others who are already producing Wi-Fi certified products," Cheong adds.
Wi-Fi technology is also a better alternative to other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, Infrared and Utlrawideband (UWB), although they may well complement, rather than compete, with each other in some instances.
"When one looks at the attributes of the different technologies such as Bluetooth, infrared or UWB technology, it becomes clearer as to why, for WLAN, Wi-Fi is the choice apart from the fact that it was designed from day one to be a wireless Ethernet connection to data networks," says Murray.
"Bluetooth was designed as a pico-net system without any one device in control until that device needs to communicate to another device. The maximum number of other Bluetooth devices in a pico-net is only 15. The original design is very low powered with a maximum range of 30 feet."
Bluetooth also has a slower data transmission speed of just over 1 Mega bits per second (Mbps) as opposed to 11 Mbps offered by Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi, users can enjoy an Internet connectivity at about 200 times faster than a dial-up modem.
"There are later editions to Bluetooth that call for higher power and higher throughput but they are still pico-net systems without a central control point. Parties interested and pursuing these later editions for higher power are not very visible. Those working on higher throughput speed for camera, video and the like are making much more progress but not into the WLAN space."
While infrared would be a great medium for WLAN, they still lack the ability to penetrate through walls and floors.
UWB, although not new, is rather limited for use within the military. It is still too early to predict the future of UWB. But why wait-and-see where UWB is heading when Wi-Fi is available, says Murray.
Security Issues Being Addressed
Wi-Fi is not without flaws. Security is often the concern because of the weaknesses of its Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol. But works are currently underway to patch this problem.
There are four specifications under the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) body. These are 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. According to Murray, IEEE is now working on new security measures that would be incorporated into the new 802.11i standard.
"There is also work going on separately within the Wi-Fi circles for an interim solution. It may be that certain companies will activate this interim solution until the "11i" standard is released."
"There is no doubt that the Wireless community takes this issue extremely seriously and will put a sound solution in place as soon as possible," Murray assures.
GSI will be present at this year's 802.11 Planet Conference and Expo, to be held at The Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore on October 2 and 3. The company will discuss major issues surrounding public Internet access.
For more details on the event, go to www.intmediaevents.com/80211/singapore02/index.html.