The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

WI-FI FOLLIES
Wireless networking was all over the news the last couple of days:

- In Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, the local public school district was found to be lacking in wireless security, as a local reporter was able to log on to their network and access all kinds of personal information on students.

It's almost comical how lax these networks are. I've been tempted to cruise around town here with my notebook computer and wireless card, and see if I could tap into any networks. I did this the last time I went to the University of South Florida in Tampa; I was able to access the wi-fi network, but wasn't able to log on without having a student or faculty ID. Pretty good security, I guess, although I don't know how well it would hold up to a hack attempt (which I can't do).

- Meanwhile, security concerns aside, wi-fi is being promoted by the United Nations as the standard for the developing world to adopt in getting with the digital times.

This reminds me of the other wireless trend in the developing world: Pervasive mobile phone penetration. The idea is that, because traditional landline wires weren't extensively built in much of Africa and Asia (or even Latin America), cellular technology offers a way to leapfrog past the older infrastructure. Pretty interesting trend to watch.

- Then again, not everyone is sold on wi-fi, especially since it's taken so long for it to roll out and catch on. Forrester Research predicts that wi-fi is shaping up to be the next dot-com-style bust, to be overtaken by Bluetooth and other standards.

Intriguing. However, I think this underestimates the impact the new Intel Centrino chip, as it becomes a standard in notebook computers (and perhaps, in a few years, in all computers). Even though performance and connectivity are cited as the chief reasons why wireless hasn't caught on, I think it has more to do with the lack of built-in functionality. With the Centrino, that all changes.

If wi-fi in its current form does get left behind, there are other contenders on the rise. Wirless local loop (WLL) is looking very promising.

- Blended into all this is my own tinkering with setting up a wireless network at home. I've finally gotten my wireless gateway configured and working. The final challenge is to get it working with my browsers. I think it's a good option for experimentation tomorrow.