Integrator Toolbox: More wireless on the way

New Wi-Fi standards enhancing security

The lowdown

What is it? The IEEE 802.11 wireless standards allow PCs, handhelds and other devices to connect wirelessly to LANs and the Internet. Dominant in the market now is 802.11b, which transmits data at up to 11 Mbps on the 2.4-GHz band. Coming along are 802.11a, at 54 Mbps on the 5-GHz band, and 802.11g, which will use the 2.4-GHz band at up to 54 Mbps.

What's ahead? Systems that bridge 802.11a and 802.11b connections are of particular interest this year, as are combo cards for notebook PCs and handhelds that can access both types of systems.

What's built in? Wi-Fi is increasingly being incorporated into handheld devices from Palm Inc., Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp., as well as almost all of the new Tablet PC devices coming out under the aegis of Microsoft Corp. and its manufacturing partners. High-end Apple Computer Corp. notebook PCs also feature Wi-Fi and Dell Computer Corp. has added it to many of its notebook PCs, though not yet to its new Axim handheld computers.

In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing seems to be a sure bet: 2003 will be the year of wireless networking in offices and campuses around the country.

Starting with the IEEE 802.11b wireless standard, also known as Wi-Fi, on-the-go and ad hoc wireless connections are popping up in public spaces, office complexes and enterprise campuses. Wireless connections and networks are being built with inexpensive gear compliant with Wi-Fi standards.

Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance and a strategic marketing manager for wireless radio chipmaker Intersil Corp. of Milpitas, Calif., said he expects a busy year.

"There's still a good market for Wi-Fi PC Card devices, and the USB radio market has grown significantly," he said.

According to Keith Waryas of market researcher International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., 2003 "could really be a pivotal year for 802.11, because we're going to see so many new standards in terms of technology for security, from authentication to encryption."

Security is a key issue for Wi-Fi makers and users, particularly government users.

To assuage such fears, the Wi-Fi Alliance is promoting the Wi-Fi Protected Access standard to replace the existing Wired Equivalent Privacy standard.

"The bar for security is always rising and the development of robust security solutions takes time," said Stuart Kerry, chairman of the IEEE 802.11 Standards Working Group for Wireless Local Area Networks. *

Mark Kellner is a free-lance technology writer in Marina Del Rey, Calif. E-mail him at



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