Understanding Wi-Fi and Wireless WAN
Provided by HP
After you decide to go wireless, the next decision to make is how you want to connect to
the Internet and how mobile you need to be. This article goes over both Wi-Fi Internet
access and WWAN access.
Tethered Wi-Fi: How It Works
Tethered Wi-Fi Internet access is similar to a traditional, wired Internet connection. A
wireless NIC (network interface card) sends data over digitized radio signals to an access
point or "hotspot." The access point is typically connected to the Internet via a wired
broadband connection. Wi-Fi networks have become such a fixture in many public
establishments that many professionals don't worry about getting online when they're
away from their homes or offices -- they simply look for a coffeehouse or a bookstore.
Wi-Fi is a general term for a set of technical standards. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers) is the body that defines technical standards for several areas,
including computer networking. It approved the first Wi-Fi standard -- 802.11 -- in 1997.
That first standard is now referred to as 802.11 Legacy and is no longer in use. These are
the standards used today:
802.11a: 802.11a offers a range of about 100 feet indoors and an average data rate of
25 Mbps (megabits per second).
802.11b: 802.11b was an improvement over 802.11a in terms of range. It covers
about 150 feet indoors, but it's far slower, at an average data rate of 6.5 Mbps.
802.11g: 802.11g is the most commonly used standard today. It covers about 100 feet
indoors and has an average data rate of 11 Mbps.
802.11n: 802.11n is an experimental standard. It's reported to have a range of about
160 feet and a much improved average data rate of 200 Mbps. It's not widely used
and isn't a fully approved standard yet.
Tethered Wi-Fi: Who It's Perfect For
Wi-Fi Internet access is great for telecommuters and other professionals who can get their
work done in any setting. It's also convenient when you're on the road because most
hotels offer Wi-Fi to their guests as a way to entice business travelers.
Tethered Wi-Fi: The Benefits
The biggest benefit of Wi-Fi Internet access is availability. In the past few years, Wi-Fi
has become widely adopted in so many public places that you can expect to find a hotspot
almost anywhere you need to get online. It's usually faster than the wired broadband
connection it's attached to, so you probably won't notice any slowdown compared to
plugging into a network with a wired connection.
Tethered Wi-Fi: The Drawbacks
Wi-Fi Internet access is available only within a short range of the access point -- typically
150 to 300 feet. Most users consider this limitation a fairly minor drawback because they
usually work from a stationary location, such as a table in a coffeehouse that's well within
the optimal range. They might not be able to log on from the sidewalk outside the
coffeehouse, but that's not a big deal to most users.
Business owners see the 300-foot range as a benefit. They can provide Internet access to
their customers but not necessarily to patrons of the shop down the street. The short range
means that users who want to get online have to come into the business, where they're
almost certain to have a sandwich or a cup of coffee.
Wireless WAN: How It Works
If Wi-Fi is too constraining for the way you do business, consider getting online with
wireless WAN, which uses cellular network technologies to transmit data.
There are two competing standards in wireless WAN or wireless broadband technology:
EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized): Based on the CDMA (Code Division Multiple
Access) standard, it gives users speeds comparable to a slow DSL (digital subscriber
line), at under 2 Mbps.
HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access): Based on the GSM™ (Global
System for Mobile Communications) standard used worldwide for cellular
communications, it provides a higher-quality signal than EVDO.
Both wireless broadband standards carry data over the same cell towers used for voice
communications and are carried on their own radio frequency to avoid crosstalk.
Wireless WAN: Who It's Perfect For
Wireless WAN technology is designed for users who need to get online when they travel
or when they're outside an established Wi-Fi hotspot. Because wireless WAN carries data
over cell phone signals, users can log on from any location within range of a cell tower.
Wireless WAN: The Benefits
The increased range (compared to Wi-Fi) and accessibility are wireless WAN's biggest
benefits. Being able to access the Internet from almost anywhere is a great convenience
for users on-the-go. You can check your e-mail from the back of a cab, update your Web
site while you wait for lunch to arrive, and order supplies online from your parked car.
With wireless WAN, you can maximize your productivity by recapturing short periods of
time that would otherwise be wasted.
Wireless WAN: The Drawbacks
Wireless WAN is slower than other broadband connection methods. With wireless WAN,
you can expect speeds a bit slower than DSL (up to 2 Mbps). This speed is fine for
sending e-mail and navigating most Web sites; however, you'll notice some lag. And
navigating Web sites that rely heavily on streaming video or other bandwidth-intensive
elements can be cumbersome.
Also, wireless WAN isn't available in all areas or from all cell phone providers.
Currently, there are three main providers in the United States: Cingular, T-Mobile, and
Verizon. They cover most of the major U.S. metropolitan areas as well as some midsize
cities. Cingular also services more than 190 countries.
Wireless WAN: The Costs
The first step in purchasing wireless WAN service is deciding which provider to use.
This decision is largely a matter of availability and signal strength, so it's a good idea to
visit a reliable dealer who can demonstrate the service options available in your area. The
major wireless WAN providers have similar pricing plans. They charge about $60 per
month as an add-on to a voice plan or $80 per month for data service alone.
You also need a wireless device with a wireless WAN network card built in, or you can
attach an external wireless WAN network card. Your service provider supplies a card
that's compatible with its service when you sign up.
© 2007 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, LP
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