From a systems standpoint, wireless has been the talk of the town. It seems as if everyone was promoting this technology as one that would change the way we all view networking. Wireless has finally taken the great leap from industry projection chatter to commonplace buzzword. Wireless LANs are the new hot item.

Wireless LANs are simply Local Area Networks without wires. Electrical contractors should at least familiarize themselves with the options associated with WLANs. Because of the reduced labor and overall cost associated with them, they are a popular choice among the budget-conscious and expense-weary consumer, which pretty much describes all industries these days.

According to the Wireless LAN Association (www.wlana.org) and the Cahners research firm, WLANs accounted for $1.9 billion in 2001 with 2005 projections to be around $5.2 billion. Pretty hefty numbers for something associated with a standard that only first appeared in 1997.

It appears as if much of this surge in popularity can be attributed to the emergence of products based on industry standards. This allows not only for easier installation, but also enhanced compatibility, which is always a lingering issue when dealing with systems. Keep in mind that 802.11a and 802.11b products are not interchangeable and generally do not work well, together, if at all, but 802.11a and 802.11g can be mixed. And that’s without even mentioning the Bluetooth part of the equation, 802.15, which seems to have moved into its own special category.

Know your standards

So there are three standards associated with wireless. Leave it to our collective industry to cover all the bases. In reality, this is a good thing; did you really think that the IEEE would leave anything to chance? Like most standards, it started with 802.11.

802.11 was first introduced in 1997 and quickly caught on, so that additions to the general standard appeared quickly, almost simultaneously, and before you knew it, there were two to choose from: 802.11a and 802.11b.

To understand the depth and breadth of the wireless rage, it helps to start with the most widely accepted and practiced of the lot, the 802.11b Wi-Fi WLAN. This is the one that operates at around a 2.4 GHz band with potential transmission rates of 11 Mb/sec. It was the first to hit the proverbial market, so longevity gave it both marketing and competitive edge right from the start.

The other two are 802.11a and 802.11g, both of which have small, loyal followings and continue to gain acceptance in the general marketplace. These are commonly known as the high-speed options. The 802.11g standard also calls for operation at a 2.4 GHz band, while the 802.11a clocks in at 5 GHz.

The 802.11a generally draws the most attention, due in part to the 5 GHz frequency, since that increased bandwidth helps push the speed envelope up from the 11 Mbps associated with Wi-Fi up to an impressive 54 Mbps.

You can only pick one

Though there are three options available, you need to choose just one for design and installation purposes. Weighing benefits and cost should help determine the winner. Add end-user expectations and you should be well on your way to making a decision.

In general, certain vertical markets seem to be better suited for WLANs than others. Industries such as colleges/universities, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, military bases and hospitals all seem to benefit and adapt extremely well to a wireless networking option. This is because many users can tap into key network areas from essentially any location throughout the facility without having to be tied down by wired connections.

Since backbone cabling is still an important and necessary feature, contractors have found themselves thrust right into the wireless world. This all adds up to a way for electrical contractors to augment revenues by offering wireless solutions.

LANs offer ease of installation, lower associated installation and maintenance costs, user flexibility and overall greater network scalability. It’s safe to assume they are here to stay. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.