Wi-Fi Widens Reach

Carl Weinschenk

There is little doubt that the telecommunications landscape going forward will increasingly mix Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 2G, 3G, 3.5G, WiMax, LTE and other approaches to shuttling data to and fro.


This will be both a competitive and cooperative undertaking, and it behooves proponents of each technique to make its offering as functional and flexible as possible. The Wi-Fi Alliance has taken a step in that direction with a certification program aimed at enabling communications between end points even when there is no connection to the Internet. The program, called Wi-Fi Direct, will kick off in mid 2010.


The connections, the press release points out, can be between any number of enabled devices-one-to-one or one-to-many. So, for instance, a Blu-ray player can send a movie to an HD television without actually connecting with any outside network.


It will be interesting to see if this concept overlaps in any way with Wi-Fi mesh networks, which are common. In non-mesh Wi-Fi networks, there is a central access point from which all end user connections are made. Think of the hub and spokes of a bicycle wheel. In a mesh, there is one main AP that links to the outside network, which usually is the Internet. But it is not the job of that AP to connect to each end user. Instead, it passes the data through to multiple other nodes. All the nodes can connect to each other in a way chosen by the designer or network administrator. The goal of these fabric-like networks is a high level of decentralization and resilience.

Mesh Wi-Fi networks are common, particularly in outdoor settings such as municipal projects. Last week, Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Solutions introduced the AP 7181 802.11n access point. The firm says the product, which uses a mesh approach, is backward-compatible with 802.11a, b and g meshes. It can traffic data at 300 megabits per second (Mbps). Halfway around the world, CXO Today reported last week that the Punjab Engineering College University of Technology in Chandigarh, India, has adopted Wi-Fi mesh technology from Proxim.


It seems likely that Wi-Fi Direct and mesh will cross paths. Another way in which Wi-Fi proponents are providing the flexibility is power-over-Ethernet (PoE). Access points need electricity to run. Reliance on the electrical grid can limit where the APs are placed. It may be too expensive, for instance, to run an electric line to the ceiling of a warehouse. Feeding power from within the communications itself eliminates this problem. Reliance on the grid also means that the network will go down if there is a power outage. PoE, since it doesn't rely on the premise's electricity, will continue to operate even if the lights go out.


The key is that the Wi-Fi Alliance, fresh off the promulgation of 802.11n, is adding to the flexibility of the networking standard as it seeks to compete -- and cooperate -- in a confusing wireless world.

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