Skip to comments.Wireless to Shake Up Telecom World
Posted on 08/11/2002 11:32:30 AM PDT by Dog Gone
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- There's high-speed Internet in the air.
A technology originally developed to link PCs in small, wireless clusters is spurring grassroots efforts to create Internet ``clouds'' that could eventually bypass the networks of big telecommunications providers.
So far, the greatest buzz over WiFi, or Wireless Fidelity, has surrounded the sharing of connectivity among neighbors, friends and strangers.
But the inexpensive technology, known scientifically as 802.11b, may be destined for something much bigger. Users are expanding homegrown networks with little or no control from the local phone or cable company.
``This feels like the Internet from 1994,'' said Scott Shamp, director of the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia, which is working with Athens, Ga. to install a wireless cloud downtown.
Such wireless networks don't require millions of dollars for digging trenches, laying cables or building towers. Anyone who wants to be a service provider only needs a dedicated Internet connection and a $200 access point.
Users pop a $70 card into their desktops or laptops to link to the networks, usually within a few hundred feet of the access points. Some products even have built-in transmitter and receiver capabilities, allowing users to grow the network while they're online.
Intel Corp., for one, says it plans to build such functionality into chips.
Wireless clouds could support a new generation of technology, from always-on portable phones and handheld computers to futuristic sensors that could continually update weather or smog conditions, for instance.
Coverage remains limited today, a far cry from what is offered by cable, phone and cellular companies. WiFi is still mostly used to provide Internet to laptops and desktops in homes and offices as well as airports, hotel lobbies and coffee shops.
But advocates say WiFi's organic growth, low cost and simplicity bodes well for future development. And while current wireless equipment extends DSL or cable Internet service to several hundred feet, the range can grow to a dozen miles or more with the addition of a stronger antenna.
Countless free access points are up and running. Most are advertised on the Web. A group in London has even proposed marking hotspots with chalk.
So far, these early efforts do not threaten service providers.
But they could eventually spell trouble for the debt-laden telecom industry, which has spent billions rolling out wired and terrestrial networks, said Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
``The decline you've seen in (telecoms industry) market value may not just be some trend that will bounce back with the rest of the market,'' Negroponte told a recent Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee meeting. ``It may not bounce back because we're going to use telecommunications very differently.''
Most of telecoms' grumbling over WiFi stems from customers publicly sharing their cable or DSL service.
``We believe that's theft of service,'' said Sara Eder, a spokeswoman for AT&T Broadband, which provides cable modem service.
AT&T is not alone, though enforcement is difficult. SBC Communications recently rewrote its policies to forbid connection sharing outside the home. Time Warner Cable in New York has sent out a warning letter to about 10 subscribers who were sharing their connections.
Other providers say they don't mind if connections are shared, provided it doesn't diminish speeds for paying customers.
But it remains to be seen whether grassroots groups can maintain the momentum necessary to provide free coverage for entire cities or regions, or whether corporations will step in. Already, reports are circulating about plans by major tech companies to deploy a nationwide network.
Sales of WiFi access cards and base stations are taking off, with sales expected to grow from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $5.2 billion in 2005 despite price drops, according to research firm Cahners In-Stat.
The sky is the limit for potential applications, said Shamp, who is preparing to launch the wireless cloud in Athens later this year.
``We're designing a sandbox,'' he said. ``We want a place where people can experiment.''
In San Francisco, Dan Augustine and Jason Luther started SF Wireless, which has 40 volunteers working on a project that not only provides free connectivity but has a goal of replacing wired infrastructure and providing content specific to their neighborhood.
Industry has had no choice but to respond.
Cell phone companies are hedging their bets by adding WiFi capabilities to products.
``There is a network that has emerged from the grassroots without a lot of planning,'' said Andrew Cole, senior vice president for wireless at the consulting firm Adventis. ``It answers a highly marketable need. You should not underestimate it.''
Oh, wait...forgot...I don't have any money! *frown*
IOW, I highly doubt your son would notice any appreciable difference whatsoever.
As for security.............excellent point. Nowdays, you can easily run at 256 bit data encryption on your internal, wireless network. No one short of a spook is going to crack that. Routers that you purchase for such things also have excellent built in firewalls as well.
In addition to all of the above, we also run Zone Alarm. That keeps twerps (well, along with the router's firewall) out of our "hardwired" system, and with the encryption on the wireless nodes / WAP, we're QUITE secure.
How often do you need their customer service? How often have they raised their rates? By how much? I use their service, by the way. My first high speed connection was ISDN. $175/month for 128k access through Alltel. You're getting a bargain. Perhaps you'll be happier when it has the name of Charter on the bill.
They can restrict bandwidth and set limits.
A friend of mine who's in my Mens group @ church took his notebook with a wireless network card and drove around his neighborhood to see if he could connect to the internet through one of his neighbors wireless connections.
Sure enough, he found at least 5 wireless connections that he could connect to with a blank key and get on the 'net. One of them lived only two doors down from him, and he could get the signal from his neighbor sitting in the comfort of his own home.
That's what gave me the idea to do it. The new 5.4Ghz wireless systems that will do 54mbit connections have even a greater range than the wireless system I have now.
Now, ya gotta wonder just what the terrorist opportunities are here. I'm afraid to go into the details. ;-) But think about it: if you can drive through a neighborhood and pick up multiple FREE internet access connections because people are too stupid to lock their wireless systems down, what other types of mischief can be cause on the internet?
I got --- 2492/114 over Cable!
It's been well over a year since I switched from a 56K modem to DSL. The difference cannot be adequately described in words.
Cheers, CC :)
Yeah, wireless is getting pretty damn fast for casual wireless access. I've already handled wireless systems capable of 400 Mbits throughput, and others with ranges of well over a hundred miles. Its perfect for residential, though the latency and other factors are sufficiently crappy that no one would want to run a server farm over them.
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