Author: Yogi Schulz

Adoption of wireless communication is growing by leaps and bounds. We’re all seeing more laptops and PDA’s sprouting little antennas out the side. Intel is raising awareness of the benefits of wireless communication through heavy promotion of its Centrino set of components.

What’s the attraction behind this trend?  We all spend part of our day away from our home or office. For some of that time we want to be as connected to e-mail, corporate applications and the Web as we if we were sitting at our PC. Wireless communication enables that connection.

The major ways to stay connected are through a Wi-Fi network or through the 1X or GSM/GPRS cellular telephone networks. We’ll explore both approaches.

Wi-Fi networks

Wi-Fi is the abbreviation for “wireless fidelity”. Wi-Fi is the popular term for a wireless local area network or WLAN. Wi-Fi can be used instead of the common wired LAN that most PC’s are attached to. “Wi-Fi is a convenient solution when installation of LAN wiring is a big problem in a home or a business”, says Bill Bentley, an information technology consultant.

Wi-Fi access points are commonly called HotSpots because their range is limited to about 100 meters. The typical data transmission speed is about 20,000 kbps for a HotSpot based on the 802.11a standard. That speed is about one third of the effective speed of a typical wired Ethernet LAN.

Businesses are installing private HotSpots for corporate applications, e-mail and Web access for employees who move around a lot in a warehouse or a manufacturing facility. Mike Finch, the Executive VP at HotButton Solutions, finds that wireless is particularly effective in shipping, receiving, goods issue and time entry applications. The installation cost for a HotSpot is $150.00 to $200.00 per PC or about the same as for a wired LAN connection. The monthly cost to transmit through a private HotSpot is zero.

Some businesses are concerned about security breaches because anyone with a laptop, parked in the executive parking lot, can easily access the corporate network via the HotSpot if no security precautions are implemented. As shocking as it may seem, many HotSpots, do not have the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption, which prevents unauthorized access, turned on. I think a lot of people should pull up their socks.

The principal limitation of Wi-Fi is its finicky operational moments. Antenna placement is crucial to effective operation. Another limitation is that the transmission speed drops off markedly with distance from the HotSpot antenna. “Wired connections continue to be faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi”, according to Ken Wallewein, a Calgary-based computing infrastructure consultant.

Cellular telephone network

For wireless communication, the alternatives to Wi-Fi are the 1X cellular telephone networks, operated by Telus or Bell, and the GSM/GPRS cellular telephone network, operated by Rogers AT&T Wireless. These networks offer an effective speed of about 50 – 70 kbps. While this speed is a small fraction of the Wi-Fi speed, the 1X or the GSM/GPRS speed is a huge jump in throughput compared to the previous generation of cellular service. The faster speed makes wireless Web surfing or e-mail communication feasible for the first time. The start-up costs range from a few hundred for a wireless PC Card to a few thousand for a wireless-capable laptop. Expect to pay about $100.00 per month in data transmission charges.

The limitations of the cellular telephone networks are the connection cost that tends to be proportional to monthly usage and the slower transmission speed compared to Wi-Fi. However, the cost and speed issues are outweighed by the hugely wider coverage that the cellular networks offer in comparison to Wi-Fi.


A Wi-Fi network is the preferred wireless choice within business premises. The cellular telephone networks are superior when wireless access outside of business premises is a must.