Home & Office

Connect your workers anywhere

For roving employees and geographically challenged branch offices, wireless access has arrived. A new breed of wireless ISPs brings the Net to places where cables don't reach.
Written by Jimmy Yap, Contributor
In the last report, we checked out how to set up a wireless office. Here, we look at how fixed wireless access is going places, from the heart of town to the heartland.

Wireless networks have become the latest technology craze. Research company Gartner Dataquest predicts that worldwide, more than 10 million new Wireless LAN PC connections will be installed in 2002, and that there will be more than 40 million business users by 2005. Rival IDC forecasts that the market for Wireless LANs will grow 51 percent a year between 2001 and 2005 in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan. Learn how to make the most of your options in this special report.
Wireless access: the new new thing
Broadband vendors are beginning to offer a variety of options for delivering broadband Internet service to a new breed of professionals who travel with Wi-Fi adapters.
Broadband anytime, anywhere
The increase in convenience is driving the push for companies to go wireless.
Wireless hits notes in 802.11a, b and g
Just when consumers have learned to use--and pronounce--the wireless networks known as 802.11, along comes a few new versions that threaten to confuse the market. Update yourself here.
Wireless hot spot aggregators
Join one of these public access hot spots and get connected to the Net while you're traveling.

Jimmy Yap is a freelancer contributing to CNETAsia.
Wireless access: the new new thing

Kelvin Khoo spends a lot of time at Coffee Club outlets. In fact, he spends so much time at these outlets that he even has favorites, which are Coffee Club Xpress at Paragon and at PWC building. But while he can tell an espresso from a cappuccino, he isn't really a coffee connoisseur. Khoo is an insurance adviser with AIA and he goes to the Coffee Club to meet potential clients in the friendly atmosphere of an up-market coffee shop.
The warm and inviting ambience isn't the only draw though. At Coffee Club outlets, he is able to get broadband Internet access even though Coffee Club outlets are not cybercafes. He is able to check his email, go to Web sites to pull out information for clients immediately, and in general, get any information he needs just as easily as if he were in his office.
"I always try to pick Coffee Club outlets to meet people. It's very convenient," he confesses.
After the meeting, he stays on a little longer to check his email. "A lot of my work revolves around appointments and email is now the preferred way for many people to communicate. So I need to check my email regularly to see if anyone needs to reschedule a meeting at the last minute."
Khoo is part of a growing band of individuals and companies that are leveraging on wireless networks to help them work better.
Full speed ahead
Wireless networks have become the latest technology craze. Research company Gartner Dataquest predicts that worldwide, more than 10 million new Wireless LAN PC connections will be installed in 2002, and that there will be more than 40 million business users by 2005. Rival IDC forecasts that the market for Wireless LANs will grow 51 percent a year between 2001 and 2005 in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan.
Companies in Singapore are also turning to wireless networks that help them work better and, in some instances, save them money. And because the cost of equipment is falling, even small and medium-sized enterprises are able to make anytime, anywhere computing a reality.
Installing a wireless network in a 1,000sq ft office from scratch would cost about S$1,000. This covers the cost of transmitters and routers. For each person on the network, add an additional $200 per person for the wireless receiver, which comes as a PC card. If a company is adding to an existing wired LAN, it would only cost about S$500 for the additional transmitters.
All this is possible because of a new wireless standard called Wi-Fi or 802.11b. Wi-Fi uses radiowaves to transmit data instead of transferring data over cables. The radiowaves occupy the 2.4 GHz part of the frequency spectrum. It is an unregulated part of the spectrum which is also used by baby monitors and microwaves. The standard offers a top speed of 11Mbps.
With a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, someone can get access to the network from anywhere in the office. He no longer needs to be chained to his desk. The laptop can be brought into conference rooms, and in some cases, into nearby coffee shops--all without losing access to the Internet.
Broadband anytime, anywhere

Cisco is a major provider of wireless equipment such as routers and has been at the forefront of the wireless revolution. Chong Yoke Sim, the country marketing director of Cisco Systems in Singapore, points out that a wireless network "provides users with maximum flexibility, productivity and efficiency, while dramatically boosting collaboration and co-operation with colleagues, business partners and customers".
While wireless networks usually supplement a normal fixed network, in some cases, small and medium-sized enterprises can actually save money by going completely wireless. This is especially so with growing companies that are always adding new employees or which are constantly upgrading to larger premises to fit the new employees. By going wireless, companies can save on cabling costs. But for most companies, it is the increase in convenience that is driving the push to go wireless.
Wireless networks offer mobility in and out of the office
ANTlabs is a wireless solutions provider which has provided a way for people to be automatically connected to the wireless LAN at Changi Airport. Its chief executive, Ang Kwang Tat, has naturally installed a wireless network in his company. "I have employees bringing in their laptops to me for discussion, and wirelessly connecting to the Web to retrieve information for my decision.
"We have meetings, and while waiting for everyone to join in the meeting, everyone can reply to emails, send print jobs and collect information to help in the discussions, with a wireless LAN in the office."
A wireless LAN also comes in useful when customers and business associates pop in for a visit. They can easily get guest access to the network to check email and to surf the Web.
An added benefit to going wireless in the office is that these companies can take advantage of wireless hotspots around Singapore. This means employees can easily access network resources even when they are on the go.
Bluengine and partner GEOi, have wired up about 30 wireless hotspots around Singapore. GEOi negotiates with the places to add a hotspot while Bluengine handles the installation and maintenance of the line and equipment. Bluengine has the most extensive wireless network in Singapore.
Apart from wireless hotspots, Bluengine also installs wireless networks for companies. Derrick Lee, the chief executive of Bluengine, says companies that find it useful to have a wireless network tend to operate in environments where a fixed network would be too expensive or impractical to install, such as in factories, warehouses and construction sites.
Lee says he is also seeing a lot of interest from companies in the insurance and property industry because these companies have a mobile salesforce that needs access to network resources. An insurance agent may check the Monetary Association of Singapore's Web site to pull out statistics for a potential client while a property agent will want to have access to the latest database of available properties for rental or sale.
Wireless hits notes in 802.11a, b and g
By Ben Charny , CNET News.com
Just when consumers have learned to use--and pronounce--the wireless networks known as 802.11, along comes a few new versions that threaten to confuse the market.

Millions of people and businesses have installed 802.11b networks--also known as Wi-Fi networks--in the past couple of years, making the technology one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak market for PC hardware.

For about $200, an 802.11b network allows Net access within a 300-foot radius, with information moving at up to 11 megabits per second. Considering that most home broadband connections download data at up to 7.1mbps, that speed would seem to be plenty.

So why are manufacturers pushing a much faster, and more expensive, version, called 802.11a? The answer is twofold: 802.11a networks should find greater acceptance in business and, secondly, in the digital home of the future, where the PC will be used as a server to beam information to a range of devices such as TVs and stereos.

802.11a has three main advantages. Chiefly, it offers better security features, a top concern among businesses that have passed on 802.11b. In addition, 802.11a can transmit data up to five times faster, and it can handle more users simultaneously. However, 802.11a equipment doesn't work on 802.11b networks. For example, a person with an 802.11a card in his or her laptop cannot access a home network using an 802.11b base station.

As a result, 802.11a "will show up in the offices not concerned with backward compatibility; it'll be a new deployment in a high-density area with lots of file sharing going on," said Dennis Eaton, senior strategic marketing manger at Intersil, whose designs are licensed to most of the world's 802.11 makers.

A third wave of 802.11 technology is already cresting: 802.11g, which boasts the speed of "a" and is more secure than "b," and has the added benefit of being backward compatible to 802.11b--something the much-touted 802.11a networks are not. However, 802.11g only operates on the same three crowded channels as 802.11b, compared with 802.11a, which runs on 12 channels and reduces interference issues.

Wireless networks using 802.11 standards--regardless of which one--will continue to reign as the champion of home networking, most believe.

The biggest challenger has been identified as Bluetooth, a wireless standard used to emit a very powerful signal but over a range far shorter (only 30 feet) than Wi-Fi's. Mike Hogan, general manager of Texas Instruments' wireless networking business, is among those who believe Bluetooth will never pose a serious threat to 802.11 equipment.

The main reason is that 802.11 was originally built to work specifically with broadband transmissions, while Bluetooth was created to wirelessly connect a phone and headset and other short-range devices such as notebooks, handhelds and printers.

"Trying to extend Bluetooth to be a competitor with 802.11 is an unnatural act," Hogan said.

Another distant challenge is posed by ultrawideband (UWB) technology, which can transfer at speeds of between 400mbps and 500mbps over distances of about 15 feet. It uses a different technique for transmitting data, and it sends many short, sharp pulses of data over a wide frequency, allowing the transfer of large amounts of data over short distances using a relatively low amount of power.

But the technology has been held back by regulatory concerns. The Federal Communications Commission has allowed only limited use because UWB works across wide slices of the radio spectrum that are already licensed to hundreds of government and commercial users. Critics say its powerful signal could cause interference with such devices as satellite navigation tools or government airport radars.

The tandem strategy
Although the technology industry is infamous for rapidly making older technologies obsolete, it appears that the already widely used 802.11b technology is deeply entrenched and unlikely to be discarded even as 802.11a catches on.

Although it's true that 802.11a equipment doesn't work on 802.11b networks, that may change as a result of some strong-arming on the part of Microsoft. The software giant will give its coveted Window Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) seal of approval for the next generation of Windows software only to Ethernet cards that support both 802.11a and 802.11b networks, said Warren Barkley, Microsoft's program manager for wireless and mobility.

"We see both .11a and .11b in the future together, and we think of that as a way for seamless roaming," he said.

Microsoft isn't alone in seeing combination cards as the key to 802.11a's future. Equipment based on just 802.11a will be manufactured and sold, likely ending up in the offices of major businesses installing a wireless network for the first time. But most industry insiders see 802.11a networks living in tandem with 802.11b in order to not abandon the 15 million to 30 million 802.11b wireless networks.

"The future for 'a' is in combination," said In Stat/MDR wireless analyst Alan Nogee.

Combination networks are more costly than 802.11b networks, but "anyone who wants to deploy wireless local area networks will be interested," Intersil's Eaton said.

Major wireless equipment makers such Atheros Communications, Intersil, Agere Systems, Broadcom and Texas Instruments have already begun making 802.11 chipsets that support each of the standards and scenarios. And while wireless equipment based on the 802.11g standard is not on the market yet, major chipmakers are producing chips that use the 802.11g standard.

The competing technologies are causing headaches for the growing number of companies trying to piece together a patchwork of wireless LANs (local area networks) in coffee shops, hotels and other public areas to create a nationwide wireless network.

One such company is Boingo Wireless. The company makes deals with other companies that have set up their own 802.11b networks in places like airport lounges and hotel lobbies. Boingo then sells customers access to more than 600 of these Wi-Fi networks and gives the network owners a slice of any revenue from a subscriber.

Boingo Wireless users can already use an 802.11a network if they have the appropriate equipment, said spokesman Christian Gunning. The company is leaving it up to the operators of the smaller networks to make their own decisions on which of the scenarios to go with, Gunning said.

Hot spots around Singapore

Bluengine is the major provider of hotspots, with 29 locations around Singapore. All you need is to sign up for its network services at its Web site. Many of the hotspots are in town but the company is slowly moving into the heartland.

The only significant publicly available hotspot which isn't run by Bluengine is Changi Airport. At Changi Airport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is providing free wireless access to passengers at the Departure/Transit Lounges of Terminals 1 and 2.
An individual subscription with Bluengine costs just S$25 a month while a corporate subscription for up to 10 users costs S$199 a month. Once you sign up, you can go to any of the wireless hotspots and just log on to the network. There is no additional charge.
Not quite cybercafes
These hotspots usually have an ADSL connection of 512Kbps. Within the hotspot, the theoretical speed is 11Mbps, but the actual speed depends on your location to the transmitter as well as the number of users on the network. The more people on the network, the slower the speed each person experiences.
These hotspots compare well to cybercafes. Cybercafes in Singapore charge an average of S$4 an hour. For S$25 a month, you can use the Bluengine for an unlimited amount of time each month. There is no additional charge for logging on to the network. In comparison, S$25 will give you only about 6 hours at a cybercafe.
At wireless hotspots, the coffee also tends to be much better. An added bonus is that wireless hotspots are not filled with the sounds of gunfire and the screams of the dying. You can check your email or work on your proposal without the presence of testosterone-filled teenagers crouched over terminals, hell-bent on killing off people in the latest network shoot-'em-up.
Wireless hotspots aren't perfect, of course. Insurance adviser Kelvin Khoo says his chief complaint about the hotspots is the places usually do not have enough electrical sockets to go around, meaning he has to worry about the battery level on his laptop.
Despite the inconvenience, Khoo still swears by the technology. Even if the battery does run out, at least you can always take a coffee break.
Meanwhile, if you are traveling or on the road, join one of these networks and get access to high-speed wireless service.

Company Where
Arena Country Club 511 Upper Jurong Road, Singapore 638366

Asia Educational Consortium 141 Market Street, #01-00, AEC Centre, Singapore 048944

Changi Airport Departure/Transit lounge, Terminals 1 and 2, Singapore Changi Airport, Singapore 918141

Coffee Club Ngee Ann City 391 Orchard Road, Ngee Ann City, #03-10/15, Singapore 238872

Coffee Club 907 East Coast Road, #01-01, Springvale, Singapore 459107

Coffee Club (Hotel Rendezvous) 9 Bras Basah Road, #01-04, Hotel Rendezvous, Gourmet Gallery, Singapore 189559

Coffee Club (Holland Village) 48A Lorong Mambong, Holland Village, Singapore 277699

Coffee Club Xpress (PWC Building) 8 Cross Street, #01-02/03 PWC Building, Singapore 048424

Coffee Club Xpress (Paragon) 290 Orchard Road, #01-37 Paragon SC, Singapore 238859

Courts IQ Funan Funan The IT Mall, 109 North Bridge Road, #05-38/39, Singapore 179097

Courts IQ Turf City 200 Turf Club Road, #02-03/09, Singapore 287994

Furama Hotel (Tiffany Café) 60 Eu Tong Sen Street, Singapore 059804

Fuzion Smoothie Café (The Heeren) 260 Orchard Road, #05-15, Singapore 238855

Fuzion Smoothie Café (Millenia Walk) 9 Raffles Boulevard, #01-84, Singapore 039596

Fuzion Smoothie Café (Novena Square) 238 Thomson Road, #01-39/40, Singapore 307683

Lau Pa Sat Festival Market 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582

Olio Dome (Singapore Arts Museum) 71, Bras Basah Road, #01-01, Singapore Arts Museum, Singapore 189555

Olio Dome (Bishan Community Club) 51, Bishan St 13, #01-02, Bishan Coummunity Club, Singapore 579799

Olio Dome (Suntec City) 1 Raffles Boulevard, #01-01A, SICEC, Singapore 039493

Olio Dome (West Coast Community Club) Blk 720, Clementi West Street 2, Singapore 120720

Poems Investor Centre Century Square Shopping Centre, 2 Tampines Central, #03-01, Century Square Shopping Centre, Singapore 529509

Raffles Marina 10 Tuas West Drive, Singapore 638404

SAFE Superstore Anchorpoint Anchorpoint Shopping Centre, 370 Alexandra Road, #B1-03, #01-21 & #01-34, Singapore 159953

SAFE Superstore Junction 8 9 Bishan Place, #03-02 & #04-02, Junction 8 Shopping Centre, Singapore 579837

SAFE Superstore Jurong Point 1 Jurong West Central 2, #02-45 & #03-37, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore 648886

Science Park 2 Aquarius 21 Science Park Road, Singapore 117628

Subordinate Courts 1 Havelock Square, Singapore 059724

Supreme Court St Andrew's Road, Singapore 178957

Thomson Community Club 194 Upper Thomson Rd, #01-02, Singapore 574339

Editorial standards