Wireless networking is an extremely popular and efficient way of distributing a broadband internet connection throughout a household. When setting up a network required pulling Ethernet cable through walls, very few households drilled holes to build their network, and typically had only one computer hooked into the ‘net. Many of us had their computer in the basement, close to the broadband connection. Tangles of wires are clearly not things of beauty. With the introduction of wireless home networking, a far more elegant and tidier method of setting up a network gained popularity. Now, we could put our drills away, and connect a whole house of computers and peripherals with no wires!
The original wireless 802.11b standard got replaced by the faster wireless 802.11g standard. Both operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency. (The less common 802.11a wireless standard operates on the less congested 5.8 GHz frequency). Crowding 2.4 GHz frequency are microwaves, the most popular cordless phones, and the wireless 802.11b and 802.11g standards. This portion of the spectrum is especially packed in urban areas. In other words, your neighbor’s “gigarange” phone and wireless network, as well as the WiFi hotspot at the Starbuck’s on the corner all are competing for a narrow piece of the electromagnetic radio spectrum. It’s a real marvel that any of these devices can function with all of this interference.
Furthermore, when wireless networking was envisioned, no one planned on using it for streaming audio and video, across multiple computers as well as other platforms. In short, it was faster than the broadband internet connections, and that was more than fast enough. Today’s networking requirements are outstripping the available bandwidth of current wireless networks. With wireless chips in every notebook sold, many handhelds, and now bandwidth hungry media streaming devices, the wireless network that started out as a convenience, is transitioning to a key component of any household computer as well as electronics setup.
Not to worry though. The crafty engineers over at the IEEE are hard at work. These are the same folks that helped bring us such standards as parallel ports, Firewire, and the previous wireless networks. The plan is for faster, longer ranging, and more stable wireless connections in the 802.11n standard. While this all sounds great, the detail is that the standard is not planned to be ratified until 2007. Manufacturers just can’t wait to build (and sell) better networking products, so the current vogue is to label the current crop as “pre-n” which is not really part of any IEEE standard. No matter though, the bottom line is that if it works, who cares what we call it!