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WIRELESS WORLD: Aggregation is the key

WIRELESS WORLD: Aggregation is the key

The phrase hot spot is not new but its meaning is changing before our eyes.

A hot spot is any public or private place where you can download or upload data, with or without wires.

I believe the meaning of the phrase will eventually morph again to denote any public place where you can wirelessly gain access to an Internet connection.

Anywhere you roam you will be connected. And, of course, the key word to remember is not hot spot nor anyplace but roam.

I've previously written about Texan company Wayport and how it is putting 802.11b (wireless Ethernet) access points in airports and hotels. Wayport's competitor and fellow Texan, MobileStar Network, is doing likewise, plus rolling out the same service in just about every Starbucks.

To remind any readers who may not have read about the coming services, these companies are putting up APs (access points) in public places. The APs are wired to a server, which in turn may have a T1 connection to the Internet.

A subscriber with a wireless connector - you can call it a radio card, namely a PC card or CF 2 card in a handheld or notebook - can gain access to the Internet or the corporate network.

Security, with or without the infamous WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) key issues, is still being worked out. Suffice to say a WEP key is impractical in a public network.

Your performance - depending on distance from the AP, a clear line of sight, and how many people are connecting at the same time - offers a maximum throughput of 11Mbps. That's about five times faster than what 3G wireless technology had promised, but don't forget the variables.

Here's the catch. Say you sign up with Wayport and you're waiting in an airport served by MobileStar. You won't be able to gain access because these public-access networks are not really that public. You pay for the connection, and MobileStar and Wayport certainly don't want any freeloaders.

The solution? Aggregators. What are aggregators? I find this the exciting part. Companies such as Gric Communications in California are essentially the go-betweens betwixt the various competing networks. Public-access networks in some places may actually stress the word public, as in public libraries, public parks and museums.

Gric, and other aggregators like it, will tie all these mini-islands together. Even if you could subscribe to all the various public networks, you'd need an Oracle database to store your user IDs and passwords. The aggregators, whose customers will be ISPs and perhaps large enterprises as well, will allow a user to take one user name and password and log on to multiple networks around the world.

To vent your views on aggregators and wireless networks, mail ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com


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