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LAN for Business

The powerful two-way wireless business and home network is the wireless Local Area Network or LAN. Some professionals like to use WLAN as the acronym, but I'll use LAN since we're not talking about wired networks. A LAN ranges about 100 meters, usually connecting more than 200 devices.

Unlike the publicly licensed and costly WAN, a wireless LAN or Local Area Network operates on unlicensed spectrum. A wireless LAN is used by computers, handhelds, and some experimental cell phones, but not by pagers. Businesses buy LAN base station transmitters located within the building. Greater wireless data bandwidth and full ownership of all the equipment is the primary advantage of LAN. While WAN cell phone data trickles in at kilobits per second, LAN data is measured in megabits per second.

The most popular LAN standard is wireless Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b with a 100-meter range, 11 Mbps data rate. It operates on unlicensed spectrum at 2.4 GHz. However, Bluetooth devices, cordless phones, and HomeRF consumer networks also operate at this frequency and can cause interference.

The FCC provided additional spectrum for unlicensed wideband operations in 1997. Both Europe and the U.S. have set aside a 200 MHz portion of the 5 GHz band. Running in this space are the fastest LANs yet designed. In North America, Atheros is showing a 54 Mbps IEEE 802.11a modem that streams perfect digital movies over the air. (This most exciting of the new LANs was shown operating at COMDEX November 2001.) Europe is developing HiperLAN2 with stepping rates between 6 Mbps to 155 Mbps.

But perhaps the most exciting trend in the wireless industry is owning your own towers. Buying your own 802.11b base stations is becoming increasingly popular because a business can eliminate per-minute charges, transmit far more data, make a secure network, and add many network services beyond the scope of WAN carrier abilities. 802.11b and other air interface standards may well give the telephone companies a run for their money. Keep in mind that one WAN tower can cover the area of 10,000 LAN base stations.

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