Flexi hype

A recent survey of IT companies found that although WLAN is a popular and successful concept there is a general lack of knowledge...

A recent survey of IT companies found that although WLAN is a popular and successful concept there is a general lack of knowledge concerning wireless networking, not helped by confusion over which standard to choose.

Wireless networking offers users the potential flexibility lacking from a fixed network. This advantage was recognised by IT decision makers, according to recent research carried out by market intelligence consultancy Rhetorik.

Of those asked, 66 per cent gave the potential for LAN users to access real-time information anywhere in a building as a reason for implement-ing the solution. Mobile workers also featured heavily in the plans of UK organisations - 50 per cent of those planning a WLAN said that enabling mobile users to log on to the network easily was a major factor in their decision to install the technology.

The report indicates that this is a growing market, with 31 per cent of UK companies looking towards wireless networking solutions. In 80 key UK companies, 15 per cent of IT managers had already taken the technology on board, with a further 16 per cent planning to install a WLAN in the near future. A total of 75 per cent of those who planned to install a WLAN would do so within the next year.

The learning curve
While this appears to be good news for integrators and vendors, the Rhetorik survey and research undertaken by the Opus Group for Black Box Network agree there is a lack of knowledge concerning wireless networking.

Opus found that 50 per cent of IT and network management professionals using WLANs did not know what standard the LAN conformed to. Rhetorik found that 47 per cent of those companies who had no plans to install a WLAN said they did not know enough about it to make a decision.

Peter Huddleston, UK product manager at solution provider ELSA, blames the confusion of the available standards. "Can we please get inter-operability between standards sorted out before we go any further?" he asks. "People need to get used to IEE 802.11b (WiFi - wireless fidelity) before they're pushed into the next big thing. I would like to see the 802.11b standard become commonplace and stable, and for corporates to take more responsibility for installation and security.

"It's the same old story: conventional Ethernet caused problems for early adopters who learnt the hard way that bending cables or resting tables on them caused their networks to fail. There is a learning curve with WLANs, but we are out of the early adoption stage."

Massive growth

Martin Cook, business developer at Cisco UK, agrees that there is confusion, much of which has been caused by the hype surrounding Bluetooth and others, but he says the same hype has not occurred in relation to 802.11b.

It is more beneficial to talk to an enterprise about the services it requires rather than the technologies available, he claims. Cisco has seen massive growth of 802.11b among enterprises, with the past two year's year-on-year growth averaging 60 per cent. The last two quarters are also suggesting significant take-up among the SOHO market.

Which standard?
David Soares, European managing director of Netgear, also sees confusion over standards, but believes that dealers and their end-users are now understanding that Bluetooth is a 'personal space' wireless standard, while 802.11b is a wireless computer networking standard.

In his experience, 802.11b has been very well adopted in the UK with take-up passing all expectations. "Many SMB dealers have purchased an access point and one or two 802.11b adaptors to try it out on a site," he says. "Once they have seen how well it works they have been selling it to more and more customers. I have been surprised by how many small business customers are using 802.11b for desktop PCs."

Soares thinks Bluetooth has had it as a wireless LAN protocol. "That fate will be sealed when 802.11a, the 54 MB standard for wireless LANs, is released next year," he says. "Blue-tooth's domain will remain one of 'personal space' connectivity but not more than that."

Cisco's Cook does not expect to see much take-up of 802.11a before the end of 2002, primarily because the predominant standard among PC manufacturers over the next few years will be 802.11b. "IEE 802.11b is an open and relatively mature standard, incorporating Enterprise manage- ability and security," he says. "The challenge for manufacturers with products using the 'new' standard of 802.11a, is to build in these Enterprise features, not just release a faster product."

Maximum flexibility
Netgear originally thought that most of the market would come from laptop users, but they have found that demand for wireless on desktop PCs may be as high as 25 per cent.

Cisco's Cook says: "It's difficult to say what effects wireless networking will have on the take-up of PDAs and laptops. The user isn't bothered how connectivity/networking is achieved, as long as it happens. Thus, it is likely that in the future we will see PDAs equipped with Bluetooth for close proximity working/downloading of information to desktop terminals, and GPRS to enable connection to the wider world and remote down-loading of information to mobile staff.

"On the other hand, the typical laptop is more likely to have Bluetooth for proximity, and OEE 802.11b to enable wireless network-ing, such as WLAN within a building to allow maximum flexibility without the need for a fixed workstation."

Rhetorik: www.rhetorik.com/
Opus Group: www.opusgroup.co.uk/
Black Box Network: www.blackbox.com/
ELSA: www.elsa.com/
Cisco: www.cisco.co.uk/
Netgear: www.netgear.com/

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