The next 12 months promise to be an exciting time for wireless networking - particularly on the LAN side of the equation. The final approval of the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) wireless LAN standard, specification 802.11, the advent of 10Mbit/sec wireless LAN technology, and the expected fall in prices, suggest the wireless LAN market is just about ready to take off. If only the market knew After seven years in the making, and many believing it would never come to fruition, a standard for wireless LAN has been approved.
Belated, the IEEE 802.11 specification may not do much for groundbreaking technology. Already the bandwidth specified - 2Mbit/sec - has been outdated by 10Mbit/sec technology (which is expected to hit the market at the turn of the year).
But the specification is hoped to bring interoperability between different vendors' wireless products and increased competition in the marketplace as more manufacturers are encouraged to take up the technology. Customer confidence should increase, and best of all, prices are predicted to drop.
Attributed to the wireless LAN market's sluggish growth over the years is the price of wireless technology, and the lack of awareness at the consumer end of the market.
Ross Chiswell, channel manager for Integrity Data Systems, a WA-based distributor with a focus entirely on wireless networking, believes the absence of a standard has hindered market growth. "You've got different vendors manufacturing different radio technology which work in different ways. There was no common ground, which meant that you weren't seeing the prices going down. That is probably the sole reason why it hasn't spread greatly in the Australian market. It's probably a price perception more than anything," Chiswell said.
When the cost of a wireless LAN is up to four times as much as a wired LAN, and doesn't offer nearly as much bandwidth (although this will change with 10Mbit/sec technology) it's easy to understand why wireless LAN is still a small market.
As Tony Tilbrook, the wireless communications manager at reseller Star-tec Communications, put it: "Wireless LAN is a very, very, niche market and as yet pretty small. The customer has to have a real application to use wireless LAN at the moment because it's not cost effective yet."
The wireless market on the whole - that is LAN and point-to-point (wireless WAN) - is small in Australia. It should be noted that currently most of the wireless business falls on the point-to-point, or in some cases point-to-multipoint, side of the market (the most common scenario being to link two networks in a span of less than 10km).
In comparison to the market in the US, where Chiswell feels wireless has "taken off quite well", Australian customers are slow to recognise the flexibility and hidden savings from implementing wireless networks.
"I can only put it down to that Americans look at the technology - how it can be very flexible for them, and how it can save them a lot of time and money. That's the only reason, to date, that I think it's not taking off here - Australians are not looking at it from a business-case point of view, but are just looking at straight speed for the dollar. Australians tend to be a lot more technically driven and bandwidth hungry in the way they implement IT strategies," Chiswell said.
So what are the hidden savings? How much does it cost to rewire a building when the customer has to move someone around? Or add another user?
What if the customer only wants a temporary network solution?
"A lot of the cost justifications in wireless networking are, in fact, not straight out," said Peter Geale, national marketing manager for Anixter Australia. He said that the cheapest way isn't necessarily the most efficient solution - he looks less for "the cheapest way to do it, but more [for] what extra value am I going to get."
Anixter, for example, was involved in a sale to a school in Queensland which had relatively old buildings and didn't have cabling. The school didn't want to cable every room, so it bought 50 notebooks and put in a wireless network.
"So the students go to collect the notebook computer before the lesson, go to the classroom and they are connected onto the network anywhere in the whole school. In fact, we are seeing children at that school sitting under the trees connected to the network," Geale said.
Reaching critical mass
So until the price comes down and the technology is seen for its flexibility, wireless will remain a niche market. This may not be too far away, Chiswell suggests: "I can see that the 2Mbit/sec cards are going to come down more towards the end of the year.
"As the price of the radio product comes down, eventually wireless is going to reach a critical mass, and people are actually going to identify it as a real alternative. But until it does, it's still going to be sitting on the fringe," he said.
Limited awareness and knowledge of wireless technology in the first place presents a problem to resellers working in the market. Most resellers contacted by ARN said clients have an application for which they require a solution and, more often than not, think only of the terrestrial-based cable options that telecommunications carriers such as Telstra provide.
"Not enough people know about this technology and how you can use it. It's a little bit like people who turn to the carriers and don't realise there is an alternative in point-to-point wireless," Chiswell told ARN.
"When people need to connect two networks across the road, they might approach Telstra or Optus to put in a macro link. And that will cost them between $10,000 to $15,000 to initially install, and roughly $22,000 a year to run. They could put in a radio link for about $15,000 to $20,000 - and that's it, they don't have any ongoing costs," he said.
So it's a case of recognising the niche where wireless may fit. And when a reseller does, it can be a profitable business. Wireless margins are "slightly higher than standard industry profit margins", said Star-tec's Tilbrook, "however, the market is very small, and the moment you get one or two competitors working on a site, the margins drop very quickly. It's really no different to any part of the computing industry."
The margins are nice and profitable, but wireless resellers warn - fingers can be burnt. A lot of hard work before the installation, before the proposal is even accepted, is involved.
"Anybody can buy the product and many do. Whether or not they have the expertise to pull off a more complex installation is not always evident," said Tilbrook.
"The average sales lead time can be anywhere from three to six months. It involves the whole education process, from the solution, to how it works, through to the actual training and functionality of the system afterwards, and then the ongoing support," he said. Chiswell agrees. "Resellers that buy something and think that it just plugs together are going to get burnt."
Resellers have been caught out by not being able to deliver the promised goods. It basically comes down to not enough groundwork being carried out, Chiswell said. He says the crucial part of the installation is the investigative work beforehand - approaching the project in a professional way; carrying out a site survey to determine the coverage of radio signals; the topology of the area; where to put the antennas and so on.
Of Integrity Data System's resellers (which Chiswell estimates to be roughly 100), only about 20 are active and strong wireless resellers and are making good money out of it.
"What makes them different is doing it right the first time. They've perhaps been burnt, but now when they implement wireless technology they put it through a process - they are taking a professional approach rather than just walking in with "I'm a cowboy and I can make it work".
So, there you have it, the wireless market. It's pretty nifty technology. There's a heap of technical info and news on the Web so if you've got access, here are some sites to check out:
The WaveLAN site
Digital Transmission Systems
General Research of Electronics
Integrity Data Systems
Tel (08) 9409 1033 Fax (08) 9409 1033
Wireless LAN standard approved
By IDG Staff
The seven-year wait for a wireless LAN standard has concluded with the final approval of standard 802.11 by the US IEEE Standards Activity Board.
The 802.11 specification, which was introduced on June 26, governs how 1Mbit/sec and 2Mbit/sec wireless LAN products from different vendors work together.
The standard will provide interoperability at the physical layer, between mobile clients and access points, and will encompass three transmission options - one infrared option and two radio frequency options (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum and Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum).
It also defines the Medium Access Control (MAC) protocol for wireless LANs, known as Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) which works "seamlessly with standard Ethernet, making wired and wireless nodes on an Enterprise LAN logically indistinguishable", according to Lucent Technologies. The compatability provided means that wireless LAN products, when integrated with a cabled LAN, are easy to install, operate and manage.
As a result of the standard, more vendors are expected to bring wireless LAN products to market, and users will be able to buy with greater confidence, knowing that standards-based equipment will interoperate.
The price per port for wireless LANs in the US, which currently exceeds that of cable-networks, is expected to drop as more manufacturers enter the market.
"The cost of components will go down, as they are built to the standard, and the volume will go up, so there will be economies of scale," said Angela Champness, director of product marketing at Lucent Technologies.
Wireless LAN manufacturers such as Proxim, Symbol Technologies and Lucent Technologies have pledged support to the standard and to achieving multivendor interoperability.
SOHO wireless LAN
Innomedia has developed a wireless LAN product, the InfoWave, priced for the SOHO/residential market at RRP $499.
The InfoWave uses digital spread spectrum technology and transfers data at 85K/sec over an open space distance of up to 250m and within a building, a distance of up to 100m.
The InfoWave package includes two InfoWave transmitter/receivers, a serial cable, InfoWave software, a power adapter and a power cable to connect to the keyboard port. The InfoWave can be used to connect two PCs together (replacing the RS-232 cable altogether) and to enable printer or modem sharing.
Multiple point-to-point networking is also available with the addition of a transmitter/receiver per PC or device.
Launched at PC 97, the InfoWave is currently only going through the retail channel but is available to resellers from Creative Pacific.
Tel (02) 9906 8887 Fax (02) 9906 5577
Wireless network market overview
With wireless networks set to become more pervasive, the key for resellers will be in identifying the opportunities for its implementation. The following exerpt is from a white paper from US wireless networking vendor RadioLAN titled "Wireless networking at 10Mbps". It sets out to demonstrate those scenarios for wireless tech-nology in a LAN environmentWireless LAN advantagesThere are several key areas where wireless LAN technology can add significant value to today's networking requirements.
Small- to medium-sized networks. Many LANs today are installed without the benefit of a large, on-site support staff. Wireless LAN technology greatly simplifies LAN deployment for applications such as field offices, remote sites, and growth-oriented small companies - environments where on-site technical assistance is most scarce.
Cable plant augmentation and/or alternative. The greatest immediate opportunity for wireless LANs is in the creation of new network connections that are not possible in a wired-only environment. Some of the applications and environments suited for wireless LANs include:
Structured wiring augmentation. In large enterprise networks, installing new cable is often expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming. In addition, the cost of performing network moves, additions and changes in large organisations can consume an overwhelming amount of the overall network operating budget, making network reconfigurations a costly endeavour. Wireless networking technology alleviates these problems by simply eliminating the need for structured cabling.
Tenant improvements. Some organisations leasing office space may not want to invest in building improvements such as cable installation. Wireless LANs represent a one-time investment that can be carried from site to site without incurring any installation costs.
Older buildings. Older buildings that were never designed to accommodate structured cabling are excellent candidates for wireless LANs. These buildings usually contain materials that are either hard to work with or present a health risk, discouraging owners from installing a cabling system. Wireless LANs represent an excellent alternative for such environments.
Historic buildings. Historic buildings throughout the country are often protected by local zoning ordinances that prohibit major renovations - including the installation of a network cabling plant. Wireless LANs offer the only viable option for such environments.
Flexible networking. Wireless LANs can be quickly and easily deployed, disassembled or re-configured. The ease with which network installation and modification can occur means wireless LAN technologies address the following requirements much more effectively than wired solutions.
Ad hoc workgroups. Access to information is critical for businesses to be effective in today's competitive climate. More often than not, responding to customer needs requires a business to maintain a fluid and nimble organisational structure. This requirement has created a growing need for flexible LANs that can be quickly installed, configured and placed into service. Temporary offices, dedicated project teams, disaster recovery operations, political conventions, financial audits - any application that requires temporary connectivity is a perfect candidate for wireless LAN technologies.
Ubiquitous connectivity. With the explosive growth in the number of networked computers and office layout changes in today's world, professionals are demanding an easy and fast way to "plug in" to the corporate network. Network managers are consistently finding it tedious and expensive to deal with the network cabling. Integrating wireless connectivity could reduce the cabling requirements to 1 point per 1000sq m.
Mobile/remote access. Today's highly mobile business culture has created a growing number of "nomadic" professionals that demand constant access to their company's corporate information system. Examples of such applications include:
Enhanced meetings. Pen-and-pad computers, along with PDAs and "live boards", can come together to form what some visionaries have labelled "shared space" which allows people spread throughout a building or around the world to have meetings and interact verbally, visually and electronically. At the end of the meeting, each attendee leaves with a copy of the same notes.
Shopping. Shelf management requirements, as well as interactive consumer systems located throughout a store, represent perfect wireless LAN opportunities.
Conferences. Conference proceedings, which often require temporary connectivity to the Internet, corporate database or even video conference can be easily attained through 10Mbit/sec wireless LAN technologies.
Vertical applications. Warehouses, manufacturing facilities, medical point-of-care systems, mobile point-of-sale terminals, and other applications that require a knowledge worker to roam throughout a facility can benefit from wireless LAN connectivity.
For more information contact:
Lucent's 30km LAN
Lucent Technologies has announced the release of a high-speed outdoor antenna module and new Remote Point-To-Point diagnostic software which, used with WaveLAN and WavePOINT II, will allow for outdoor wireless LAN links of up to 30km.
The External Antenna Module (EAM) is a PCMCIA-based design and works with any device which supports a PCMCIA interface (including Lucent's new access point or "bridge", WavePOINT II).
Lucent's WavePOINT I will be phased out at the end of the year and to use the WavePOINT II (reference price $US1299), the EAM or a PCMCIA card is required.
The EAM (reference price $US899) includes a PCMCIA card, a connector cable and radio module with an external antenna connector. It is placed inside the bridge which connects to a server or network backbone.
Lucent suggests two EAM directional antennas used with the WavePOINT II bridge (which has two PCMCIA slots) and WaveLAN could "serve as a relay station to span distances or to resolve line-of-sight problems".
The Remote Point-to-Point diagnostics utility is a Windows-based interface which can be used to configure outdoor links, and assist in the placement of antenna (by displaying link and signal quality on each of the remote links). The utility also allows for remote management of the links.
Lucent Technologies Australia
Tel (02) 9352 9272 Fax (02) 9352 9277
Lucent patents 10Mbit/sec wireless LAN
The research and development arm of Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs, has patented a new tech- nology which is claimed to make 10Mbit/sec data-transfer on radio wireless LANs possible.
The technology, called Direct Sequence/Pulse Position Modulation (DS/PPM), allows wireless LANs to transmit data at five times the speed currently available. DS/PPM transmits at the 2.4GHz band, and uses Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) technology to resist noise and interference.
Products utilising the technology are expected to be available early next year.
The DS/PPM technology will provide interoperabililty with IEEE 802.11 compatible wireless LANs.