802.11 is in the air
Networking continues to be one of the areas
of constant interest and development in an industry that is
otherwise struggling to evolve in Bill Gates’ 1984 vision of
uniform and drab similarity for all computer users and all
applications. And in an echo of that famous 1984 Superbowl
, once again, the innovative (but otherwise mostly worthless)
Apple set the ball rolling with the adoption of 802.11b and called
it WiFi. In much the same way that IEEE1394 was branded as
“Firewire” so as not to scare the ponytails.
(As an aside, why-oh-why can’t Apple simply
grab at the accelerating Linux bandwagon and go for it as the focal
point for anti-MS sentiment? It’s most of they way there with the
latest operating system, and it would be the ultimate irony if Apple
eventually got its leg over Microsoft by such an audacious
Although wireless Ethernet systems continue to
storm markets around the globe, and the usual nervy types continue
to fret (rightly) about security, but that doesn’t really deter the
average home user who is still happy to use services like Hotmail
and believe that their email is somehow confidential. Standard
wireless Ethernet is also scorned by wideband bigots, since it's
"only" 11Mbit, in a world where gigabit Ethernet is now becoming
de rigeur. However, since the majority of domestic users are
deploying the technology to provide a link to their internet
connections, which are rarely more than 500kBit, then it's not
exactly the weakest link. And even given the best estimates of the
most optimistic, it's going to be a while before a domestic internet
service is going to offer anything to put a strain on the 11MBit
(best case) of 802.11a
Recent moves in the UK mean that some channels
in the 802.11a spectrum have been “de-regulated”, so 50MBit at 5GHz
is also available.
Most users moving files around in a domestic
environment are not going to find 11Bit a constraint, since the
essence of wireless is to provide the laptop legions with virtual
tethers to their email. And users currently wanting to edit the home
movies and shift the various GByte files around by wireless, will
simply have to be a bit patient, or get coppered up.
Is security a nightmare if there are snoopers
within 50m of your laptop? No more so than when the internet is
concerned, where most snoopers are several thousands miles away.
802.11 comes with a robust enough encryption scheme for those who
want even more passwords and pass phrases to lose/forget – it's not
perfect, but it does the job for normal people. If you want a tale
of extreme paranoia, I recently saw that someone who had been
watching too much TV was even proposing using a telescope and
sensitive photo detector scheme to watch the LAN activity LEDs on
switches and network cards. Yerrss...
Will the move to devise simple and cheap tools
for spreading free-access 802.11 networks from pioneers like Jon
Anderson and the £250 Locustworld Meshbox (http://www.locustworld.com/),
there is a real chance that public 802.11 networks will totally
undermine telco expectations for 3G revenues from data services.
Frankly, it's hard to see how it cannot, but I don't imagine those
who paid HMG over £20bn for their licenses will be screaming at the
government to "do something" about 802.11 just yet, because telcos
are not legendary for their grasp of new ideas and technology, and
most people working at telcos will have failed to spot the train
coming their way. I heard one telco person suggest that people would
pay daft amounts and still use 3G because of security fears – well,
he obviously hadn't heard about a certain website that was
intercepting and publishing pictures from unsuspecting 2G photo
cellphone users. And most of these pictures were not snaps of the
users’ pets, or their smiling visages: the "office photocopier"
syndrome is rampant, as most people from the real world suspected it
would be. Moreover, there is only one thing that the wireless video
from 3G is going to be used for (apart from Hutchinson’s sad “view
the goal” application) and old ladies in Cheltenham will not be
amused – but if it is right in the heart of the 20/30 marketplace
that all companies are trying to milk.
If you are inspired to keep tabs on all this
wireless progress, I also commend http://www.kewney.com to you all,
where the venerable Guy has his finger on the pulse of this
happening scene. It’s a hotbed of information and subversion on the
world of wireless and mobile computing from a UK perspective.
The biggest problem in this business is, as
ever, the ignorance and hypocrisy that is rampant throughout the
powers that be, both commercial and political. And since 802.11 has
all the makings of the sort of unstoppable popular revolution
(parallels with CB are not irrelevant) it is set to become an
unstoppable social phenomenon that delivers Broadband Britain
through the back door. In spite of both Government and Telcos.