Archive for November, 2002

Let’s Go Wireless

Monday, November 18th, 2002 Michael Barr

Being an electrical engineer with a home office who’s moved five times in a decade, I’ve gotten quite adept at setting up and maintaining a small network of computers, telephones, printers, and other office equipment on my own. In fact, I’d say I rather enjoy doing these things. I typically set aside one day at the beginning of each move—before bringing in any boxes or furniture—to configure the phone jacks for separate home and work lines, fax, and Internet access, and to run CAT5 cables and install jacks in each room for Ethernet.

I used to have to buy a few new cables, connectors, or tools each time I moved, but in recent years I’ve generally found that everything I need I already own. And as my resources and experience in this area have grown, I’ve even developed a filing system of sorts for the necessary equipment and cables. In my system there are precisely four categories of cables: power, audio/video, telecom/datacom, and computer. Related equipment such as power strips, antennae, network hubs, and spare hard drives are kept with the cables of their type.

I realized only during my most recent move that a significant change is in the air—literally. It turns out that the time required to connect all this stuff together is going down not up. And that’s not simply because of my increasing experience. The fact is that wireless connections are becoming a mainstream reality—particularly in the communications area. And this is making my pile of telecom/datacom cables and cabling equipment increasingly irrelevant.

In our new home we have 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz wireless telephones as well as a wireless 802.11 LAN. Our early adoption of DSL a few years back eliminated a dedicated incoming phone line, which used to be dedicated to low-speed dial-up (at about the same monthly cost overall). The wireless phones and 802.11 LAN make the physical location of the remaining two incoming phone lines irrelevant. So long as I go wireless, the DSL modem, router/firewall, and hub need not even be located near the computers in the office.

In fact, the whole concept of a home office is changing. That term used to mean that I was a slave to the phone and computer on my desk—just like most office workers. As I write this, however, I’m out on our new patio seated comfortably with my laptop, cordless phone by my side. I can access files on the local server, the Internet, and even over on the publisher’s side of a VPN. All of this took just minutes to set up, instead of the usual hours.

But now that I’ve seen the future, I’m disappointed that there are still so many wires left in other areas of my home and office. Ultimately, I’d like to see my collection of coaxial and RCA cables made obsolete along with those for serial, parallel, and USB devices. I won’t be happy until my Palm and server can sync simply by being in the same room, I can debug embedded software remotely from the patio as well, and my TV can show movies from a DVD player (or hard drive) anywhere.

As a consumer, I don’t care how any of this is accomplished. And though I want it to be secure, I don’t care how that is accomplished either. Whether it’s ultimately 802.11, Bluetooth, the proposed 802.15 hybrid of the two, or some other technology doesn’t much matter from the consumer perspective. As Nike says, we need to just do it.