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Wireless computing comes to Indian corporates

Wireless Market
AMCPL, the exclusive research partner for the Gartner Group in India, says that over the last seven years WLANs have gained popularity in a number of vertical markets, including healthcare, retail, manufacturing, warehousing and academic institutions. AMCPL predicts that the WLAN market in India is expected to be worth $0.1 million in 2001 and is expected to grow to $2.8 million by 2007.

Going by these statistics, one would think that the Indian Wireless market has some promising days ahead. But in reality, there are still some creases that need to be ironed out before we begin to see growth.

Previously, companies shied away from wireless technology, or chose to wait and watch, because of the lack of widely adopted standards. Now that the IEEE 802.11b (11Mbps) standard is popular, many vendors are offering products based on this standard here. But 802.11 is itself an evolving standard and already there are other variations like 802.11a (54 Mbps), 802.11g (20+ Mbps) etc. Already vendors like Enterasys are offering WLANs that combine both 802.11b and 802.11a standards.

Now that the standards problem has been sorted out it seems that the main impediment is getting speedy approvals from regulatory bodies like WPC (Wireless Planning & Coordination wing) and SACFA (Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocations).

"The main issue now is getting approvals from the WPC for the ISM band (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz). The ISM band is used for wireless applications worldwide," says H.V. Kedlaya, MD, Convergent Communications (India).

Opines Cisco's Naresh Wadhwa, "While regulatory bodies are certainly required, the timeframe for getting approvals should be reduced."

The other key issue of concern is security. Since data is transmitted over airwaves, anyone who knew the frequencies used for transmission could use a receiver to eavesdrop. But now complex encryption standards such as WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) provide encryption for wireless networks.

Then there are psychological reasons that hold back widespread adoption of WLANs in enterprises. "There is still that first level of fear in the mind of the Indian CIO. But once he deploys it in one area and realizes how easy it is to do so, he does not hesitate to deploy it further across the enterprise," says Wadhwa.

This level of fear can be removed by creating more technology awareness. This can be done by staging live technology demonstrations in actual business environments.

Outlook

So when is the wireless market likely to boom here?
"The move towards wireless deployment has started but we need more applications specific to the industries that use this technology," says an industry analyst. "Even if the applications exist, someone has to take the first step for integration. Service providers also need to gear up for wireless services and that would take another six to nine months."

In the coming months we will see more SIs focusing on wireless technology and helping enterprises go the wireless way. Vendors will help create more awareness by educating their reseller partners and potential customers. Developers will see an opportunity in the wireless space and create more applications specific to certain industries. And then more enterprises will set up WLANs.

But there's no need to wait till then, for wireless solutions are already available in the country (see table).

Choosing a WLAN Solution for your enterprise
If you are seriously thinking about deploying a WLAN solution in your enterprise, then you need to consider a couple of issues. There are vendors who manufacture WLAN products and Systems Integrators who will design your WLAN and give

you a ready-to-use wireless solution (depending on your requirements). Some (like Cisco) will even demonstrate a WLAN solution in an actual business environment.

There is a new breed of Systems Integrators and Consultants who specialize in WLAN solutions. Most will also assist you in getting approvals from wireless regulatory bodies like WPC (Wireless Planning & Coordination wing) and SACFA (Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocations).

Building blocks (Products)
Wireless LAN products are usually sold as an end-to-end solution. Single units are later sold as one extends the WLAN. For example, one may go in for a Wireless solution comprising Access Points, Wireless LAN cards and a Bridge and later order more Access Point units. Apart from the WLAN hardware it goes without saying that all the relevant device driver software should be included in the solution. A typical WLAN comprises of:

  • Access Point: It is a radio-based receiver/transmitter (transceiver) that connects to the wired network from a fixed location using standard cabling. The transceiver communicates wirelessly with the Wireless LAN card in the desktop or notebook PC. A single access point can support a small group of users.
  • Wireless LAN cards: End-users access the WLAN through WLAN adapters (wireless network interface cards). For wireless connectivity, one needs to fit either a PCMCIA wireless card in a notebook PC or a PCI wireless LAN adapter in a desktop PC.
  • Bridge: This unit connects two LANs wirelessly. It provides a point-to-point wireless connection and is used for connecting two LANs that may be in two different buildings or on two separate floors within the same building.

Compliance (Standards)

  • IEEE 802.11 - In the early days of wireless technology, there were several proprietary communications technologies (devised by vendors), and no common standards. Wireless LANS were slow to take off because of the lack of standardization. However, we now have universal standards approved by bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). There are various IEEE 802.11 standards (with specific data transmission speeds, frequencies, and other parameters). (Also see www.ieee.org)
  • Wi-Fi - The standard for Wireless Fidelity devised by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA). WECA's mission is to certify interoperability of Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) products and to promote Wi-Fi as the global wireless LAN standard across all market segments. For more information on WiFi and WiFi certified products see www.wirelessethernet.org.
  • WEP - Wired Equivalent Privacy is a security standard that provides encryption for wireless networks. WEP was part of the original IEEE 802.11 standard.
  • DSSS - Most WLANs use radio-based spread spectrum technology. A Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum transmission generates a redundant bit pattern (called a chip or chipping code) for each bit transmitted. So if one or more bits in the chip are lost in the transmission, the radio can still recover the original data from the redundant bits without the need for retransmission.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

 
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