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Since its implementation in the late 90's, wireless networking has grown in popularity and has become an integral part of our daily lives to stay connected to the World Wide Web. Although early adoption of wireless networking was primarily laptop computers, it has since expanded to game consoles, cell phones, PDAs and digital cameras. In addition the growth of social media and micro blogging has increased the need for maintaining a continuous connection to the Internet. To satisfy the growing need to remain connected to the Internet, new wireless technologies have emerged.
In the late 90's, the growing success of the Internet gave rise to the need for a continuous connectivity to the web. Early Internet connectivity was commonly established by a device called a dial-up modem, which occupied a telephone line. Dial-up technology was not able to compete with the bandwidth needed to accommodate the expansion of multimedia and high quality graphics being introduced on most websites. The technology also had the limitation of occupying an available telephone line that resulted in missed incoming phone calls. The next evolution came with the introduction of DSL and broadband cable Internet connectivity, which provided users a continuous connection to the Internet without restricting telephone access. Both technologies offered faster bandwidth and gave the advantage of sharing access to multiple users by constructing a Local Area Network (LAN). In most households, the installation of cable to construct a LAN is not an easy task.
To overcome the limitations of using cabling to construct a LAN, the 802.11 wireless network standard was released. Commonly referred to as Wi-Fi, 802.11 technology can establish a connection between wireless network equipment and computers through the transmission of radio waves that can penetrate walls and other objects. Since its introduction into the market in 1999 by a group known today as the Wi-Fi alliance, several revisions have been made with increases to range and bandwidth. The most notable revision in mid 2003 was the jump from 802.11b to the 802.11g standard. The 802.11g standard gave consumers an increase in maximum bandwidth from 11Mbps to 54Mbps. Although the 802.11a standard that was released around the same time as 802.11b offered 54Mbps speed, the higher manufacturing cost localized the solution to mostly commercial applications. In late 2009 another revision was introduced to offer greater bandwidth than 802.11g. The revision known as 802.11n offers a maximum possible bandwidth of 300Mbps and is backward compatible with the previous 802.1a, b and g standards.
The implementation of Wi-Fi is not limited to only home applications. Many restaurants and businesses have seen the opportunity in offering wireless Internet access to attract laptop users. Commercial environments also adopted the technology to allow flexible connectivity for laptop users at colleges, corporations, and retail stores. Locations with WiFi Internet access become known as "hotspots".
Wi-Fi does possess a few limitations such as its signal coverage and security. Although the coverage area of Wi-Fi is adequate for most home and commercial environments, it is inaccessible from a distance outside of a building. Although many businesses have Wi-Fi hotspots available, not all are considered free and require a subscription or paying a fee. As a result, users with mobile Wi-Fi devices are unable to access the Internet when away from preferred Wi-Fi areas. Movement from traveling in a car, bus or train makes accessing Wi-Fi networks almost impossible.
Wi-Fi also leaves an open path for intrusion from unauthorized users. In some instances, an individual may gain access to an unsecured wireless network to connect the Internet or to obtain sensitive information from connected computer systems. Although encrypted security options such as WEP and WPA are available, there are still a large number of Wi-Fi networks that have not been configured and are susceptible to intrusion.
To address the coverage limitation of Wi-Fi networks, a wireless Internet solution using cellular communications was developed. In the mid 2000's the third generation of cellular based communications was introduced and provided mobile users access to the Internet with coverage spanning many miles. This revision is commonly referred to as 3G wireless and offers variable speeds from 200Kbps to 7Mbps. Since cellular communication coverage blankets areas as large as a city and is accessible in most areas of the country, 3G technology gives mobile users access to the Internet when away from Wi-Fi hotspots. Most cell phones manufactured in recent years are capable of utilizing a 3G network for Internet access. Laptop users can gain access to the 3G network by installing an adapter to an available USB port. 3G wireless has recently expanded to include devices such as tablet PCs and E-readers to give users the ability to download books, movies, music and applications when outside of Wi-Fi hotspots.
In 2009 the need for faster bandwidth prompted the implementation of the fourth generation cellular communications system revision. This revision is commonly referred to as 4G wireless and offers an increase in speed up to 12Mbps, allowing faster downloads and smooth video streaming. Both technologies can allow users to access the Internet from a moving vehicle making it an ideal solution for those who travel frequently; however unlike Wi-Fi that is offered free of charge in some hotspots, 3G and 4G both require a subscription to a data plan through a cellular provider.
This white paper is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. C2G makes no guarantees, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness or reliability of the information found in this document.