Wireless Systems Design

What's The Word On WLAN?

These days, you really can't go anywhere without hearing something about Intel and Centrino. In one fell swoop, Intel seems to have dramatically altered the course of the WLAN and mobile-computing marketplaces. For WLAN vendors, it changed the market for the better. According to one estimate, 16 million notebook PCs with embedded Wi-Fi will ship to businesses this year. By 2005, Wi-Fi will be a standard feature in 95% of notebooks.

Essentially, Centrino embeds WLAN chip sets into laptop computers. It works with Microsoft's XP operating system to detect 802.11 networks automatically. As a result, users who are logging onto a corporate network can do so with little to no hassle. Such ease of use is boosting the use of WLAN for enterprises and horizontal—rather than just vertical—markets.

To some extent, Intel's Centrino has become an industry benchmark. It has sent other vendors scrambling to offer alternatives and find the holes in Intel's approach. Security has already been identified as one hole. Industry insiders agree that Centrino alters the way that users log onto their corporate networks. Yet they're quick to point out that it also changes the way that users can access someone else's wireless network. Suddenly, various security breaches, such as connection hijacking, are scary realities.

Of course, there are ways to resolve this issue. Newbury Networks, for example, touts its location-enabled-network (LEN) solution as the answer. With this solution, it's possible to restrict access to offices and cubicle work areas. The LEN solution also can provide secure access to external networks in conference rooms. For security and informational purposes, it monitors external areas for network activity. Of course, this solution is just one of many options. The AP/switch architecture is another potential solution that promises to ease the security issues of large-scale WLAN rollouts.

It's also important to recognize that Intel isn't the only player that's currently involved with WLAN. Chipmakers like Atheros, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Icefyre, and GlobespanVirata (formerly Intersil) are already offering a/g solutions. Intel promises to roll out a dual-mode mini-PCI in Centrino by the end of this year.

It's hard to keep up with this rash of activity. To help you navigate the WLAN waters, this issue contains a special section that's specifically dedicated to WLANs. Included are articles on various aspects of the WLAN market. I hope you find it both informative and useful. As always, send me your thoughts at [email protected].

TAGS: Mobile Intel
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