IEEE picks Lucent wireless proposal

An international standards organization last month chose a proposal by Lucent Technologies Inc. and Harris Corp. as the standard for sending wireless data at more than five times the speed of many existing wireless networks— a development that should bode well for the military and other agencies.

The organization, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, chose the Lucent/Harris proposal for its 802.11 standard, which sets guidelines for companies developing wireless products that send data at a rate of 11 megabits/sec. Many wireless local-area networks today operate at 2 megabits/sec.

The current speed is sufficient for small groups of people to share data on a wireless network as easily as if they were working on a wired network. But operating a wireless LAN with many users sharing large amounts of data requires faster data rates.

"You're going to definitely, obviously, see an increase in capacity," said E.J. von Schaumburg, U.S. product manager for Lucent. "It's the number of people sharing that bandwidth where the additional capacity is going to take hold."

Already in the federal government, agencies are taking advantage of hardware and software operating on wireless networks. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses wireless LANs to record patient information at the patient's bedside.

The National Gallery of Art uses wireless LANs for gift-shop operations, rather than trying to run wires along the marble floors of the gallery, and the Navy has wireless LANs on ships such as the USS The Sullivans, where the LAN is used to share engineering and damage reports throughout the ship.

The Navy's use of LANs is dominated by 2 megabits/sec technology, said Tom Street, electronics technician at the Naval Research Laboratory. But Street said that as 11-megabits/sec products are developed, the Navy should upgrade its wireless LANs. "I imagine as we start buying and replacing some of this equipment...we'll start buying the new 802.11 stuff," he said.

Street said an upgrade to 11 megabits/sec would be especially useful for sharing full-motion videos with many users throughout a ship for training purposes or consulting on ship repairs. "What the increased bandwidth...means is that you get faster updates to your video and you get better quality video," Street said.

Von Schaumburg said 11-megabits/sec products likely will appear next year. But because of the high initial cost, the demand for those products may not be strong.

"The real issue is no one has enough volume on the wireless LAN space right now to drive down prices to where they'd be compelling," said Maribel Lopez, a wireless analyst with Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass. Development of 11-megabits/sec products "still means that I'm going to have to spend a couple of hundred dollars for a card so my PC can be on a wireless LAN."

Companies that position their faster wireless products as an augmentation to traditional LANs, rather than as a replacement, may find greater success, according to Lopez.

"It's never going to be huge, but there is room for some vendors to make money," she said.

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