Wi-Fi: It's Fast, It's Here -- and It Works

by Bruce Stewart

Related link: http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/apr2002/tc2002041_1823.htm

Business Week online is running an extensive report on the current state of Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, as it is also known. While Wi-Fi has been regularly praised in the technical press, the fact that fast wireless LANs are rapidly being built today from inexpensive off-the-shelf components is now getting lots of attention.

The article notes that Cahners In-Stat expects sales of wireless network cards and Wi-Fi base stations to grow from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $5.2 billion in 2005, despite big declines in the prices of such equipment.

One reason companies are flocking to Wi-Fi is the cost-savings it can result in over wired LANs. An example is given of a Boston consulting firm that spent $30,000 last year wiring up their office LAN, where similar results today could be achieved with a $500 Wi-Fi installation. While those numbers seem a little hard to believe, it's true that Wi-Fi base stations and network cards are relatively inexpensive, and getting more so.

The cellular carriers are also definitley taking notice. While their "3G" systems that promised to offer high-bandwidth wireless data services continue to struggle to get out of the starting gate, Wi-Fi is here now, and far cheaper than 3G will likely ever be considering the massive infrastructure and licensing investments these carriers are making to implement this technology. Now carriers like VoiceStream and Sprint PCS are incorporating Wi-Fi into their networks, and handset makers like Nokia and Ericsson are building it into their phones.