As wireless LAN speeds approach 11 Mbits/second-faster than the speed of traditional, wired Ethernet LANs-new markets will want to reap the benefits. Connectivity and mobility lead this list. Connectivity is essential to the sharing of multiple computation and communication devices, inclu- ding laptops, printers, fax/copiers/scanners, productivity-enhancing handheld devices and voice applications (a majority of homes now use cordless phones).
In addition, connectivity is needed for home automation, whether you're talking about linking intelligent and nonintelligent devices, distributing multimedia content through home-entertainment systems using VCR, TV or DVD, or regulating home comfort through heating, lighting or air conditioning systems. Home environments also need connectivity to effectively manage communications channels and information.
Now that the need for connectivity has been firmly established, certain stringent requirements must be met. First, no new or additional wiring should be needed to accomplish connectivity. Second, the connectivity solution must be immune from interference, provide adequate range for a typical home or small office, and prevent security breaches. In addition, the connectivity solution should be easy to install and easy to use, with plug-and-play features, simple accessibility and very few points of failure. Finally, the solution must be cost-effective and affordable.
Based on these requirements, two technologies could meet the need: RF-based wireless LANs or tools from the Home Phoneline Network Alliance (HomePNA). But for applications that require mobility, wireless LANs are the only choice.
The need for connectivity is driven by the fact that broadband access-xDSL, cable, T1 and digital broadcast, among others-is becoming increasingly available and affordable. That leads to the second market factor fueling the growth of home networking: the maturity and cost-effectiveness of available technology.
Wireless LANs can meet all the requirements of LAN connectivity in the small-office and home-office (Soho) environments. By integrating a wireless LAN bridge as an access point within the WAN broadband modem, the surrounding 20,000 to 60,000 square feet within and around a home could be immediately activated with infinite points of connectivity.
Thus, homeowners with a one-acre property, for example, would be able to use their wireless-LAN-connected devices not only within the home but also in the backyard and around the swimming pool. They would no longer be restricted to accessing data in certain rooms within the home, but instead could check a date book, talk on a voice-over-Internet Protocol phone or access the Internet from any point on the property.
No new elements would be needed to add client devices to this area of connectivity, other than devices with wireless network interface cards or application-specific devices with embedded wireless capability. Within a home, most users will need connectivity for about eight to 16 client devices and will not need to roam between wireless bridges.
Since access to information will now be available over the airwaves within a certain radius around the home, security becomes an extremely important aspect of wireless connectivity. Security consists of two components: authentication and encryption.
Authentication is the process by which users are allowed to connect to the network and subsequently are given access to their own data. Authentication is usually provided by higher-level application software. In this approach, all users are allowed to associate with the access point, but the access point would forward only a specific type of data. This scheme can be time bounded, so that if authentication fails within a certain configurable amount of time, the association with the access point, and thus with the entire network, would be terminated.
Symbol's engineers have developed a way to provide an even more secure level of authentication in the access point. Several authentication schemes can be implemented, ranging from one that requires a hard contact between the client device and the home access point, to one where a user enters a confidential code on the client device within a certain time slot allocated for this purpose.
Encryption, the second component of security, is the process by which data is scrambled when transmitted over the airwaves, thus preventing anyone who may be "sniffing" this data to make any sense of it. Currently the 40-bit RSA/RC4 encryption algorithm is supported, so wireless products can be exported worldwide. New products coming to market support 128-bit encryption. Distribution of the encryption key is usually a challenge and allows vendors to differentiate their products.
While the process of distributing encryption keys for home networks should be kept as simple as possible, it cannot be so weak that buyers of retail wireless equipment can figure out their neighbors' keys. A balance between simplicity of use and complexity of the software algorithms is needed to provide a secure system that can be managed by the average consumer.
As the Internet evolves, new applications for its use will emerge to run on hundreds of millions of devices that increase productivity and genuinely improve the quality of life for users. While laptop and subnotebook computers will continue to be popular, the market will soon see widespread proliferation of application-specific information devices that turn on instantly.
Wireless LANs have one major advantage: wireless-LAN-enabled devices need not be connected physically to any wired outlet. This mobility creates the expectation of being able to access information when and where it is needed, and applications are sprouting up to satisfy that expectation.
A consumer's kitchen, for example, could be equipped with a wireless LAN and a bar-code-enabled Symbol version of the Palm Pilot, which would hold phone numbers and addresses, a date book and a text-messaging pad. Users would have electronic access to e-mail and recipes, and could create shopping lists simply by scanning in items from the labels on food packages.
Eventually a voice-over-IP phone component with a speaker could be included. A magnetized strip on the back of the Symbol Palm device would make it easily accessible on the refrigerator door, right where the homeowner used to stash a jumble of handwritten notes held in place by kitchen magnets.
A wireless LAN link to the home PC would allow this information to be stored on the PC while remaining accessible on the kitchen version of the Symbol Palm device. There's a twofold advantage to this scheme: It permits all users in the home access to the same info from the PC, such as a family date book and address book, while allowing the end device to be small and inexpensive, since less memory and processing capacity are needed on the actual interface device.
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