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The Wi-Fi threat
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By Ken Anderberg

Suppose that every neighborhood homeowners association in the United States purchased high-speed cable or DSL service to feed a high-speed wireless LAN in its community. Now suppose businesses in close proximity, say in a multitenant office building, did the same.

Before long, these mininetworks, dubbed by one source as public wireless local area networks (PVV-IANs) would begin to overlap, with bandwidth exchanged between groups. As the overlap grew, whole cities, suburbs, and other high-density commercial and residential areas would join the wireless network.

Wireless carriers have already recognized the potential, and the danger to their revenue streams, of this scenario. Cable and DSL providers are outlawing such bandwidth sharing in customer contracts.

This trend is an extension of current public 802.11 lb wireless hot spots at airports, coffee houses and such. The possibilities, however, are far more onerous to wireless carriers, and cable and DSL providers. This trend has the potential to seriously erode already shaky revenue models for these companies.

For the cost of a cable or DSL connection and strategically placed and inexpensive wireless access points, multiple people or businesses can feed off the same high-speed provision point. An entire neighborhood of hundreds of homes could have high-speed Internet access for the typical $40 monthly fee, plus the one-time cost of a few access points. Instead of hundreds of customers in that neighborhood, the bandwidth provider would have just one customer-with a rather high bandwidth-usage pattern.

Neighborhood associations and business parks thus become unregulated wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) using the unlicensed (and essentially free) Wi-Fi bandwidth. It's enough to make the wireless carriers shudder.

The broadband industry is not taking this trend lightly. The Broadband Wireless Alliance, for example, is lobbying the FCC to turn over some of this unlicensed public spectrum for use by the wireless carriers, thus reducing the spectrum available to PW-LAN operators.

In the middle of this tangle are companies like Boingo, which is trying to stitch together a national network of Wi-Fi locations in order to create a revenue model that requires users to pay for access, as opposed to the "one-- access-point-for-all" approach currently gaining steam across the country. Boingo founder Sky Dayton also founded Earthlink, which grew by gobbling up numerous, smaller ISPs across the country. That is the model he envisions now for Wi-Fi.

Why should enterprises care about all this? Well, if high-speed bandwidth providers can limit how many users can connect wirelessly to a single DSL or cable line within a residential community, those limits also might impact enterprise WLANs that provide the same bandwidth service to corporate campus environments. Put another way, are 300 employees of a company that use a WLAN to connect to a single DSL line for Internet access any different than 300 homeowners who do the same thing?

Copyright Nelson Publishing.

About the author: Article written by Ken Anderberg

Editor's Note
Wi-Fi is a wireless networking protocol. The concept is very simple for the simplest usage of WI-FI. For example, an office network can share Internet access using wireless WI-FI protocol rather than using ethernet wires. Small office networks can setup a WI-FI access point relatively inexpensively. A LinkPoint Wireless Access Router for example costs $99.00. Each access device (laptop, desktop or printer) costs an additional $59.00.

Many companies such as T-Mobile and Boingo have inovated the usage of WI-FI and are targetting traveling business professionals. They setup WI-FI networks in public locations such as airports and hotels. Subscribers can then gain access to the Internet from these locations by paying a monthly fee. T-Mobile recently signed an agreement to offer wireless Internet at all Starbucks locations nationwide.

WI-Fi technology is still not widely adopted. There are some concerns about security vulnerabilities. Individuals may be able to get access to sensitive information across WI-FI networks. We will publishing articles on WI-FI security in the next Smart Moves newsletter.

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