The a-b-gs of Wireless Networking
By David Dritsas
Nothing is hotter in CE networking right now than wireless. Hard-wired Ethernet is still a dominant technology, of course, and rightfully so. But wireless networking's popularity, courtesy of the 802.11 spec, is exploding everywhere, and end-users are voting with their dollars. As the interest in this technology grows, vendors are looking beyond the PC as the core application. Wireless has already established itself in distributed audio applications, and video won't be far behind. As the technology gets faster and better at its job, wireless is bound to be requested by your customers even more frequently than it is now.
But as with all fast-moving technologies, 802.11 has at times gotten ahead of itself, sometimes practically upon leaving the gate. There are many versions of 802.11 and not all are compatible. The industry has been guilty of refining and replacing products with new and better — but incompatible — products before the original versions had any time to resonate with consumers. And the numerous brand names and I.D. numbers don't help, either.
As just about everyone now knows, 802.11 (formally known as IEEE 802.11) is a form of radio technology used to create wireless local area networks (WLANs). Some call it wireless Ethernet, others call it by the brand name, Wi-Fi. The first form of Wi-Fi offered to consumers was 802.11b, a standard for wireless LANs operating in the 2.4-GHz spectrum with bandwidths of 11 Mbps. The 802.11b spec has been in existence for over three years, primarily as a way of networking personal computers and sharing Internet connections, particularly broadband service. Lately, 802.11b has found its way into other devices. Hewlett Packard, for one, is offering a music-streaming device that connects to a PC and links with a home A/V system. Using the wireless connection, the device can stream digital audio files (e.g., MP3s) as well as still images.