John Ross -- author of "The Book of Wireless: A Painless Guide to Wi-Fi and Broadband Wireless" -- talks about trends in wireless technology and usage, and discusses some of its risks and challenges.
What can an experienced enterprise network pro learn from reading your book?
John Ross: A couple of things -- one of them is the background of the technology. I have the suspicion that a lot of people treat Wi-Fi or any other technology as a series of black boxes. I don't think people are going to read this book and then suddenly design their own radio systems or radios from scratch, but they will learn that this is what is going on inside those black boxes. And this is always useful, regardless of the size of the business.
The technology doesn't change, irrespective of the size of the network. Understanding how Wi-Fi works, the nature of radio transmissions, and the different kinds of antennas -- these are things probably more useful in a larger office, as a smaller office can often get by on just one access point. But if you're trying to cover a larger space or multiple related spaces, you may want to use directional antennas or multiple access points. So this type of knowledge will definitely scale.
In a large enterprise, you are likely to have more than one operating system on the network. You will probably have someone come into a Windows shop wanting to use a Mac or a Linux box on the network. A Windows network administrator might not have as much experience with these alternate operating systems, and that is where this book could come in handy.
And the security information is handy too. You hope that a large enterprise security administrator already understands the limitations of a network, but you can't emphasize that too often. There is also the alternative to Wi-Fi. As these alternate technologies become more widely available, having a system that doesn't require you to go looking for a specific access point and knowing that you will have a live connection is useful. I tried to make clear with this book that Wi-Fi is only one of several alternatives for getting a computer connected to the network.
Speaking of these multiple variants on wireless technology -- broadband wireless, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, etc. -- which has the most staying power? Will we continue to see wireless in one of these forms in the next 10 years, or are these merely stepping stones?
Ross: Nicolas Negroponte said, "What was wired is becoming wireless and what was wireless is becoming wired." But the wireless technologies that have been around will continue to be around even if people do not continue to use them. Even if most of the users have gone over to a new form of wireless, the technology will remain, including Wi-Fi. If the broader wireless networks continue to exist, they will do so as a residual service.
Wireless clearly has staying power. But what are the real advantages of this technology versus wired – in both the short and long term?
Ross: Wireless is convenient and offers real ease of access. You can carry a device of any size, and you don't have to cut holes in your wall. You can turn wireless on in a hotel room or college library, or even now on inter-city buses, and you have connectivity. Even trains and planes are looking at wireless services. Boeing is attempting to have a quality wireless experience within the next year. But its strongest advantage is convenience -- being able to get easily to the information you need is the logical extension of what the Internet has been moving toward over the last 20 or 30 years.
What are some of the greatest challenges/disadvantages wireless technology presents?
Ross: Security -- both theft of data and theft of service, as well as dealing with unauthorized access to the network and physical loss, will all be important security factors. In my research, I found that a large number of laptops and cell phones are left in New York City taxicabs each year. For a lot of people, if they lose a cell phone or laptop that has all their phone numbers or important contacts preprogrammed into it, they're just frozen, and they can't do anything after that.
There's that kind of physical security -- but the more serious issue is the unauthorized access to the network and simulated connections that cause an individual to send out his personal information so someone can use it to access or pull out such information as credit card numbers and passwords.
Also, psychological dependence on connectivity will be an interesting issue to affect business workers' lives. That kind of dependency on any type of technology will be a disadvantage or at least a challenge for our society.
What will be the biggest change in the lives of business workers to result from the influence of wireless technology?
Ross: Access anywhere. Today, Wi-Fi has become so widespread. If you're in a city, it's rare to see only one access point -- you'll definitely see four or five or more. But the biggest issue with all those Wi-Fi access points is that most aren't using more than the security features that come with the device. If you're running on a network, you should be running as many security features as you can. For the enterprise, it's not just a matter of protecting credit card numbers but more a matter of protecting trade secrets.
What is the most important thing you hope readers will gain from reading your book?
Ross: My intent with the book is to make people more comfortable with using the technology. It's also to encourage people to be more proactive when it comes to security when using the technology -- it's important to change channels and passwords and not just use the ones provided with the hardware or software. I'm trying mostly to provide a basis for people to be informed users and learn how to cut through the confusing instructions that come from the equipment providers. This book's goal is to demystify the intricacies of wireless technologies.