Wireless LANs Will Link the World

The technology stands on its own two feet, but speeds are far from fleet

While most wireless technologies are only beginning to toddle, wireless local area networks are now proving more than capable of handling some significant corporate tasks.

But dont throw away those Cat-5 cables just yet. Though wireless local area network (WLAN) technology has moved well beyond the bleeding edge, it certainly cant replicate the performance of 100BaseT Ethernet connections.

Currently WLANs deliver only 11-megabit-per-second throughput, though the Federal Communications Commission may relax rules that govern devices operating in the spectrum, according to Neal McNeil of the FCCs Office of Engineering and Technology. This could mean the introduction of devices that can take advantage of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers new 54-Mbps standard.

But even in slow mo, WLANs are viable options for I-managers looking to free workers from tethered PCs or avoid the hassle of installing cable.

We have 802.11b — the wireless networking standard that allows portable devices and PCs to link at Ethernet-quality data rates — to thank. "Certainly, 802.11b has been a significant standard in changing the market," said Lynn Chroust, director of the Commercial Networks Business Unit of Proxim.

Before 802.11b emerged in late 1999, technology struggled with low bandwidths of 1 Mbps or 2 Mbps, as well as poor interoperability among vendor equipment. Gemma Paulo, a Cahners In-Stat Group industry analyst, said 802.11b helped vendors get on the same page, which has driven down costs and helped with interoperability.

Although WLANs face moderate security issues, Paulo said the technology is robust enough to earn its way into corporate workgroups or other smaller-scale enterprise computing environments. And where workers are mobile — warehouses, manufacturing plants, health care facilities — you might find a WLAN.

Steve Mull, vice president of operations and planning of Fonville Morisey Realty in Raleigh, N.C., installed WLAN equipment from Cisco Systems in 11 offices. He said the system has worked flawlessly and supports as many as 12 simultaneous users. The cost was roughly the same as a wired LAN, but without the hassle of installing new wires.

"If youre faced with stringing new Cat-5 wiring," he said, "a wireless LAN is going to be your savior."