Enjoy Cable-Free Net Access With Wi-Fi Mobile Technology


Fall 2003 (Vol. IV, No. 3) Table of Contents

Is your office like a sauna in the summer heat? Would you prefer updating your online database or answering email queries in the open air, perhaps at a nearby park? Thanks to cutting edge technology, IOBA members can, or will soon be able to, ditch their desks to make the most of the summer and work out in the sun or at a shady picnic table in your own backyard.

Using a relatively new mobile technology, a team of lecturers and classroom assistants from a London college gathered at London’s famous landmark Leicester Square to demonstrate how easy, and enjoyable, it can be to work in the open air.

The technology that makes this possible is called Wi-Fi, or Wireless Fidelity. It allows you to connect to the Internet from your couch at home, a bed in a hotel room or a shady creek bank without wires. How? Wi-Fi is a wireless technology like a cell phone. Computers designed to use Wi-Fi send and receive data indoors and out, anywhere within the range of a base station. And the best thing of all, it’s fast. In fact, it’s several times faster than the fastest cable modem connection.

The mobile workforce in Europe is fast growing: the Institute of Employment Services in the UK recently predicted that the number of teleworkers in Europe could reach as many as 27 million by 2010, With more people looking to achieve a better work/life balance, Wi-Fi technology seems to be the way to go. Recent research also reveals that two-thirds of the world’s 1,000 biggest companies are expected to use WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) technology by the end of 2004.

Britain is already becoming more mobile. Research conducted amongst UK companies indicated recently that half of the corporations, and over a third of medium-sized companies interviewed, already have WLANs in operation or intend to do so in the next year.

Wi-Fi networks use radio technologies called IEEE 802.11b or 802.11a to provide secure, reliable, fast wireless connectivity. A Wi-Fi network can be used to connect computers to each other, to the Internet, and to wired networks. Wi-Fi networks operate in the unlicensed 2.4 and 5 GHz radio bands, with an 11 Mbps (802.11b) or 54 Mbps (802.11a) data rate or with products that contain both bands (dual band), so they can provide real-world performance similar to the basic 10BaseT wired Ethernet networks used by many IOBA members, including me.

Are there drawbacks? Sure there are. Your computer must be configured with a Wi-Fi certified PC Card or similar device (a radio, essentially). You must be in range of a base station, your access point or gateway, which can simply be your home or office computer. Range varies from about 500 feet to more than a mile, depending on your equipment, antennas (built-in or external) and environmental conditions. What is sure to happen, however, is that hotels, motels, resorts, and various public facilities (such as libraries, possibly) will provide gateways that you can access.

Is this pie in the sky? No way! Just think back 10 years or so. Who among us would have predicted how the Internet would grow and became a major force in our lives? Or how quickly it would happen?

This article is meant just to acquaint you with the term Wi-Fi and a few of the basics it involves. I will follow up with more information on the technology in future articles, and we hope to prevail on others with specialized knowledge of the subject to contribute also.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website