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What Is the 'Wired Advantage'?

Power is one thing...

It was quite a wireless Christmas in 2003, with wireless speakers; a wireless headset that's (apparently) all done with magnets; a wireless thermometer (so we can tell the temperature outside without leaving the house - very important here in the Highlands); and even a round flying thing that uses infrared for its remote control (yes, you do have to point the remote at it, which is half the fun). It seems that wireless communications are being added to just about everything, and as far as I can see it's all for the good.

Of course, with all these wireless devices talking to each other, there might be a concern about interference, but the range of devices and technologies available belay such concerns while demonstrating just how broad the radio spectrum is. New standards like Bluetooth 1.2, which we take an in-depth look at this issue, can extend the usability of the narrow 2.4GHz spectrum, but other technologies are coming along to fill the air with their own communications.

The latest headset I've been playing with is from Aura Communications and uses magnetic fields to connect wirelessly, offering an order of magnitude better audio quality and battery life than Bluetooth. While this first product using the technology isn't perfect, it's an example of the kind of innovation we can expect to see in the coming years. Now that wireless communications are part of our normal, day-to-day experiences, new developments are easier to sell and users know where the value lies.

While setting up my wireless speakers, which took all of 10 minutes, my wife was moved to ask why we use wires at all. The utility of the wireless solution is so impressive that wires seem more than redundant, but even in the WBT offices, wires are still everywhere, snaking through walls and (far too often) across rooms. So why are our offices more like a plate of spaghetti than ever? What is the "Wired Advantage"?

Power is the first thing; I recently heard of an office where every desk was fitted with 20 power sockets! Everything seems to need charging these days (all those wonderful mobile gadgets) and, of course, there's no chance of any compatibility in the chargers, so wires automatically cover every desk.

Induction charging would seem to be the solution - a mat on your desk contains a coil with significant power going through it, and everything left resting on the desk gets power from there. But when the manufacturers can't agree on a standard for wired supplies, it seems unlikely that they are going to work together to agree on an unwired solution. Not to mention, the coil in a wireless credit card might just pick up some of that same current next time you're perched on someone else's desk.

Cost is, of course, still the overriding factor in most wireless solutions. Even RFID, surely the cheapest wireless technology ever proposed, can get real expensive when you scale it up. In this issue we look at the impact of Wal-Mart mandating RFID use from its suppliers, and we'll see just how expensive it can be. While Wi-Fi hardware is getting a lot cheaper, it's still got a very long way to go before it can compete with the sub-hundred-dollar Ethernet cards on the market. Even when you add in the cost of cables and fitting, only the smallest installation is going to be cheaper without wires.

Finally there's the question of bandwidth; a cheap Ethernet card will happily shunt 100Mb/sec around cables, while an expensive Wi-Fi connection tops out at 54Mb/sec at best. My wireless speakers just don't have the quality of my wired ones, and soon it will be out with the drill again. My 3G phone offers me 385Kb/sec, assuming I'm in a major city, but with ADSL my copper wire connection can offer me 6Mb/sec (at least, it could if I didn't live in the middle of nowhere)!

Wireless has, so far, been mainly about enabling connectivity where none was possible before, creating new applications and ways of working that simply couldn't exist without constant communications. But as the costs come down, and new technologies open up new channels and more bandwidth, we'll start to see wireless as a way of making our lives easier, of enabling us to do the things we already do, but with less effort.

Next year, for Christmas, I'd like to be able to clear some of the wires off my desk, but now I'm off to drill some holes and lay some copper.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

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Most Recent Comments
Ilya Khasin 03/11/04 12:55:24 PM EST

Hi Bill,

Cool article. Granted, the two main "wired advantages" are still cost and performance. Businesses start to feel the "second degree" problems with wireless, though - reliability, manageability and security. Solutions to those start to emerge as well. For once, have a pick at www.cognio.com

Regards,

Ilya Khasin.

PS Please say "Hi!" to the Highlands - my favorite place on earth.

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