Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 25/02/2004The irresistible rise of the wireless network is getting faster, in all sorts of ways. Sales of the 54Mbps 802.

Wednesday 25/02/2004
The irresistible rise of the wireless network is getting faster, in all sorts of ways. Sales of the 54Mbps 802.11g standard is likely to outpace 802.11b's slowpoke 10Mbps for the first time this year, says a report , while elsewhere Linksys says that there are four million wireless networks in the UK and there'll be double that number by the end of the year. Well, perhaps. People tend to get broadband first and then get the urge to radiate: even if all three million broadband subjects of Her Majesty are currently hooked up to radio that leaves a lot of slack to take up.

But I fear dark times ahead. One of the lessons of the wireless revolution is that the market rewarded those who were a little keen to get their non-standard kit out before the 802.11g paperwork had been finished. This is not a lesson lost on Intel and pals, who are doing a similar trick with ultrawideband, and it doesn't look good for the next generation of 100Mbps wireless, 802.11n. At some point, all this potential incompatibility will turn around and bite us on the bum: when next door's SupaWizo gigabit video link decides to disagree with your BustaBit home audio distribution system, who's going to sort out the mess?

It's unlikely to be the late lamented Radiocommunications Agency, of whom I've had such nice things to say in the past. Now absorbed in the Ofcom amoeba, vast tranches of previously useful links into the RA's Web site now come up with a sorry apology -- as I find when I go hunting for the official specifications for what you can and can't do with your wireless LAN. Friends who have been setting up subtly naughty networks -- beaming the signal across kilometres using far too efficient aerials, for example --  report that the chances of being caught doing this are smaller than finding someone with a SCO Linux licence. The temptation to ladle ever more clever and non-standard equipment into the mix will grow unabated, people will start to add more power to overcome their interfering neighbours and frontier law will rule.

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