Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Stagnation and Innovation on the WLAN front

For a long while I would lurk on the Wi-Fi Planet Forums, and answer and ask several questions. I was really into Wi-Fi and help set up and troubleshoot lots of SoHo and residential Wi-Fi networks. Over the past few months, I haven't been in the loop, so to speak, on what's going on in the wireless world. For the most part, there seems to have been a lack of progress on the standards front with almost every device now being compatible with 802.11b or it's faster sister 802.11g.

Yes, a lot of companies have SpeedBooster technologies in place to make your WLAN go faster, but in reality, if your DSL or cable connection only affords you ~1.5MBps downstream, it really doesn't make much difference if you are talking to your router at 11,54, or 108 MBps. Therefore, my reccomendation for most people is to go with 802.11b for now, because the prices of 802.11b routers have now dropped below $30 in most cases. Even 802.11g routers have dropped below $50. By comparison my first crappy 802.11b router that I bought in 2001 cost me $250, had only one lan port and couldn't work with more than one wireless computer connected to it.

Given this erosion in router prices, some companies are still innovating by taking the technologies that they have and making them just a little better. Here are some examples:

  1. There is a major proliferation of gadgets and devices with Wi-Fi built-in to them - like PDAs, Laptops, Media Players, And more. I guess there is a bigger market for these now that everyone and their brother has wireless network.
  2. Consolidation is a big trend, as people use their broadband connections for more and more things - like Wired, Wireless, and VoIP. Some companies are adding VoIP gateways to existing routers.

  3. Other companies are realizing that the disparate needs are eating up bandwidth, so they are building in bandwidth throttling utilities to determine what applications get priority. D-Link actually has a new Wi-Fi Gaming Router who's major selling point is its ability to designate more bandwidth for Gamers.

  4. VoIP is also creating another type of Device - Wi-Fi phones like the WiSiP from Pulver Innovations. Even RIM has announced that a Wi-Fi blackberry will be available soon.

I guess innovation isn't just about creating new technologies, but finding new ways to use or improve existing ones. Still, despite the proliferation of Wi-Fi devices, there still seems to be a dearth of routers with USB print servers built-in. Maybe the wi-fi companies realize that they can make more money by selling these as separate devices?

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