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Introduction to Wireless Networking

A wireless network is a flexible data communications system, which uses wireless media such as radio frequency technology to transmit and receive data over the air, minimizing the need for wired connections (What is Wireless LAN, White Paper). Wireless networks are used to augment rather than replace wired networks and are most commonly used to provide last few stages of connectivity between a mobile user and a wired network.

Wireless networks use electromagnetic waves to communicate information from one point to another without relying on any physical connection. Radio waves are often referred to as radio carriers because they simply perform the function of delivering energy to a remote receiver. The data being transmitted is superimposed on the radio carrier so that it can be accurately extracted at the receiving end. Once data is superimposed (modulated) onto the radio carrier, the radio signal occupies more than a single frequency, since the frequency or bit rate of the modulating information adds to the carrier. Multiple radio carriers can exist in the same space at the same time without interfering with each other if the radio waves are transmitted on different radio frequencies. To extract data, a radio receiver tunes in one radio frequency while rejecting all other frequencies. The modulated signal thus received is then demodulated and the data is extracted from the signal.

Wireless networks offer the following productivity, convenience, and cost advantages over traditional wired networks:

  • Mobility: provide mobile users with access to real-time information so that they can roam around in the network without getting disconnected from the network. This mobility supports productivity and service opportunities not possible with wired networks.
  • Installation speed and simplicity: installing a wireless system can be fast and easy and can eliminate the need to pull cable through walls and ceilings.
  • Reach of the network: the network can be extended to places which can not be wired
  • More Flexibility: wireless networks offer more flexibility and adapt easily to changes in the configuration of the network.
  • Reduced cost of ownership: while the initial investment required for wireless network hardware can be higher than the cost of wired network hardware, overall installation expenses and life-cycle costs can be significantly lower in dynamic environments.
  • Scalability: wireless systems can be configured in a variety of topologies to meet the needs of specific applications and installations. Configurations can be easily changed and range from peer-to-peer networks suitable for a small number of users to large infrastructure networks that enable roaming over a broad area.

Bluetooth and 802.11b have the potential to dramatically alter how people use devices to connect and communicate in everyday life. Bluetooth is a low-power, short-range technology for ad hoc cable replacement; it enables people to wirelessly combine devices wherever they bring them.

Conversely, 802.11b is a moderate-range, moderate-speed technology based on Ethernet; it allows people to wirelessly access an organizational network throughout a campus location. Although the technologies share the 2.4 GHz band, have some potentially overlapping applications, and have been pitted against each other in the press, they do not compete and can even been successfully combined for corporate use.

One thing is clear, wireless technologies will continue to evolve and offer organizations and end users higher standard of life by making us more mobile and increasing our ability to interact with each other, removing distance as a barrier. There will be a time when a traveler can sit in any airport or hotel and surf the Web or connect to the home office and work. Users will be able to surf or work in places such as malls, parks, or (with smaller handheld computers) just walking down the street. Internet service providers will install larger wireless networks allowing users to connect from anywhere in the city. All of these things are possible with wireless technology.

One day soon, the network will follow you instead of you following it.

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