Faster Wi-Fi promising: wireless ISPs

The release in the US of backwards-compatible wireless network equipment that runs at double the technology's predicted maximum speed is great news, wireless ISPs in this country say.

The release in the US of backwards-compatible wireless network equipment that runs at double the technology’s predicted maximum speed is great news, wireless ISPs in this country say.

US Robotics is offering a 22Mbit/s wireless access PC card, PCI adapter and access point. The technology uses the 802.11b standard, also known as Wi-Fi, which previously was thought to have a maximum speed of 11Mbit/s. The new products are intended to be compatible with already-deployed Wi-Fi equipment.

“Obviously we’re pleased — this is what we’d hoped for and anticipated,” says Southnet managing director Marc Cohen. Southnet offers Wi-Fi services to Invercargill businesses and Cohen likens the development of 22Mbit/s Wi-Fi to the early development of modems. “It’s very similar to the improvements in modems in the old days of the internet, from 14k to 28k to 33k to 56k.”

In a statement announcing the launch, US Robotics networking product line manager Juan Lopez said the new gear’s backwards compatibility with 802.11b equipment already in use made it a more attractive option than another higher speed wireless offering based on 802.11a, released by Intel earlier this year, which has a maximum theoretical speed of 54Mbit/s.

The 802.11a standard, also known as Wi-Fi5, operates in the 5GHz range, not the 2.4GHz slot that 802.11b runs in and thus 802.11a equipment isn’t backwards-compatible with 802.11b equipment.

A new standard, 802.11g, not yet fully developed, will allow 54Mbit/s with backwards compatibility to 802.11 equipment, as it operates in the 2.4GHz range using OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) technology, as does 802.11a. Equipment using the 802.11g standard is tipped to be available at the end of this year or early 2003.

Southnet systems administrator Justin Wright says Southnet may consider the new gear, but only if customers demanded it. “If they’re looking to go to VPNs or if we had a client who has multiple connections from wireless and needs to get them quickly, we’ll look at getting it, but in terms of external connection, it probably wouldn’t achieve a lot.”

Justin Wells, service technician at Nelson ISP Tasman Solutions, says the development of 22Mbit/s-capable Wi-Fi gear is a step in the right direction. “For upgrading a lot of customers, it would be a quick solution and I can see it being quite useful for upgrading a heap of clients at one point of presence.”

However as backbone equipment, the 54Mbit/s gear developed to the 802.11g standard would be more useful, he says.

Wi-Fi’s 11Mbit/s speed is a theoretical maximum, only achievable in ideal conditions, and Wells says Tasman’s clients don’t generally opt for more than 2Mbit/s, though the company can offer higher speeds if requested.

Tasman would definitely consider the 22Mbit/s backwards-compatible gear, “as long as it [really] is compatible with the equipment we’re using”.

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