Wireless communication: the next wave of Internet technology

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1 Technology in Society 23 (2001) Wireless communication: the next wave of Internet technology David C. Yen a, David C. Chou b,* a Department of Decision Sciences and MIS, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA b Department of Finance and Computer Information Systems, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, USA Abstract Wireless technology has many practical applications in business and society. Its mobility allows users to access information any time and from any location. Because users depend on network connections for their personal computers, wireless local area networks (LANs) offer a convenient and cost-effective solution for providing those connections. The continuing development of wireless technology means ever-evolving impacts on the computer, telecommunications, and microprocessor industries. With the help of wireless technology, society in general will also see changes in the ways it handles tasks like trading stocks and banking Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Wireless standards; Wireless LAN; Wireless Web 1. Introduction Wireless technology is revolutionizing several industries, including computers and telecommunications. Wireless communication is becoming essential for business and personal applications, especially with the fast-paced, global nature of e-commerce today, where many companies need instant access to specific sources of knowledge to make critical, time-constrained decisions. While most wireless communication devices support voice technology, many wireless companies are now beginning to extend the scope of their business by creating a business-to-business data technology option that includes Internet access and text paging. * Corresponding author. Tel.: ; fax: address: (D.C. Chou) X/01/$ - see front matter 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S X(01)

2 218 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) In 2000, wireless-only traffic comprised about 3% of total voice traffic for new telephone subscribers, but it is expected that this will rise to 5% by 2005 and to 10% by Notwithstanding this growth, the USA will probably remain a wired society at least until Wireless market revenues will increase primarily because of greater utilization by existing users. This paper discusses the broad field of wireless communications, including functions, architecture, and applications. Several pros and cons of wireless local area network (LAN) use are discussed. Then the managerial, economic, operational, personnel, and technological aspects of adopting wireless technology are discussed. Finally, we consider the impacts of wireless technology on the personal computer (PC) industry, the communication service industry, and society in general. 2. The nature of wireless communications 2.1. Definition and characteristics Stamper [1] defines a wireless LAN (local area network) as a LAN that is implemented without using conducted media. A wireless LAN can use spread-spectrum radio, broadcast radio, microwave radio, or infrared light transmission to connect workstations together; in fact, some LANs use both conducted and wireless media. Several components are required for LAN technology to operate properly, including data sharing, security, software downloading, printers, backup/restore, user access, remote access, compatibility, fault tolerance, expansion, and support of user base. These same components are also needed for a wireless LAN. In addition, considerations should be taken in the areas of security, user access, compatibility, fault tolerance, and user support Functions and architectures Wireless LANs can be implemented through the following radiated media: broadcast radio, microwave radio, satellite radio, spread-spectrum radio, or infrared radio (Fig. 1). Broadcast radio is specifically useful for short distances, with a frequency Fig. 1. First use of radiated media.

3 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) range from 500,000 Hz to 108 MHz. However, this medium is infrequently used because of its low bandwidth. Satellite radio functions by transmissions from microwave stations to and from a geosynchronous satellite orbiting above the earth. The satellites orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles, and must maintain equal orbital speeds in order to remain in contact with their partner satellites positioned in other areas of the earth s orbit [1 3]. This architecture operates at very high bandwidths but is extremely costly and complicated. Also, this medium is not used for most LANs but has been widely adopted by wide area network (WAN) architectures. Infrared technology is used for short-distance networks but can be operated at speeds of 4 Mbps or less. This medium is used in an environment where buildings create barriers that obstruct wireless LAN transmissions [1,4]. Of all these options, the primary architectures used by wireless LANs are licensed microwave and unlicensed spreadspectrum architecture Microwave transmission The first microwave transmission was developed by Nippon Electric Company in Microwave transmissions operate at speeds up to 45 Mbps, which have minimal effects on humans and can transmit through thin walls. The licensed microwave is more difficult to deploy than spread spectrum, is less secure, and costs more. However, microwave transmissions travel longer distances than spread-spectrum transmissions with less possibility of interference. The bandwidth of the microwave can be split into a number of sub-channels, thereby increasing the medium s speed Spread-spectrum transmission Spread-spectrum architecture was first developed by the military, which sought a reliable communication medium that would function despite signal jamming which occurs regularly in wartime environments. Spread spectrum is easy to implement and does not require a license, thus decreasing the cost. It operates at a lower bandwidth than microwave technology, and as distance from the initial signal increases, a lower bandwidth can be used. In addition, security for this radiated medium is better, although no medium is entirely free from the threat of eavesdropping, so encryption is required when dealing with sensitive material. There are several spreadspectrum options, such as frequency hopping and direct sequencing. Frequency hopping involves changing from the initial frequency so as to increase the probability of successful data transmission. Direct sequencing sends data over several frequencies simultaneously to ensure the document is received Business applications There are numerous business applications for wireless LANs, many of which make employees more productive and business processes more efficient. For example, a simple customer service question that in the past may have taken several minutes to answer, now takes only seconds to complete by using a wireless LAN which allows the customer service rep to find the data via remote transmission. The mobility that characterizes today s business world has increased the demand

4 220 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) for wireless communication, especially now that many companies have branches in other areas of the globe. According to Manson [5], the big push for wireless communication currently comes from the explosion of digital handsets, low-cost short messaging services (SMS), a desire for instant access to , and the continuing refinement of information data services. As the demand for these features continues to grow, the need for wireless communication will also continue to expand. Line of sight, geography, and climate play important roles in a wireless LAN: sightlines must be clear of foliage, construction, or other obstacles that could create transmission deficiencies. Weather is also an important factor, even if many scenarios seem unlikely. Weather should not be a factor for unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands; however, a three-mile-link operating at 38 GHz during heavy rainfall of one inch per hour would suffer a decrease of one thousand times in the received signal strength [6]. 3. Advantages and disadvantages of wireless LANs 3.1. Advantages Mobility Mobility can be achieved in a wired system by using wireless LANs to provide the final connectivity between a mobile machine and the backbone of a LAN system. Mobility increases productivity in many industries. For instance, in the warehousing industry, inventory can be remotely updated in the network system after scanning Universal Product Code (UPC) labels. In the health care industry, doctors and nurses can instantly obtain patient information and history without being physically connected to a network, thus enabling them to monitor the status of patients wherever they are located. Being connected to a wireless network makes information access much easier Installation Installation of wireless networks is quick and easy. There is no need to drill through ceilings or walls to make connections in a building an especially challenging task in older buildings where walls may contain asbestos. Wireless systems drastically reduce the costs associated with installing physical network wires, and the network hardware usually requires less upkeep Relocation Business relocations realize significant advantages by having a wireless LAN within the company. As mergers and acquisitions continue, offices are relocated and systems integrated. Any installed wired network must remain in the building, but with a wireless system, the entire LAN can be moved, thus offering great cost advantages by allowing the company to retain existing equipment.

5 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) Security Security remains a major concern but it is less of an issue in wireless LAN systems, which are generally more secure than a wired network. The problems often arise in the gateway between the wireless network and the Internet. Selecting an advanced technology, such as data encryption and user authentication [7], reduces the possibilities that eavesdroppers might try to tap into a company system and brings improved security to data exchanges Scalability Scalability is greatly increased in a wireless network. Users can be added easily to a network, and there is no need to install wires to specific offices, buildings, or operations. When new employees join a company or move to a new location, they can take their wireless network system with them. Such scalability also allows companies to add customers or suppliers to their systems whenever needed Disadvantages Network distance Network distance is a concern when switching to a wireless LAN. The range of a wireless network varies, but most systems function best over distances ranging from 100 to 500 feet. Wireless LANs are effective inside office buildings when the networks are within this range. Today s systems mainly use radio frequency (RF) waves, which can penetrate walls and ceilings Signal interference Signal interference is a concern for certain wireless networks. Radio-based wireless networks and other products may transmit waves via the same frequency. This is particularly true if microwave ovens are in use in the building. Interference may also occur when companies located near each other inadvertently operate on the same frequency System heterogeneity System heterogeneity can hinder data transfer between organizations. One wireless network may be unable to transfer data to other type of wireless system. Recently, wireless LAN manufacturers have begun working together to create common standards for their network systems. Identifying such standards for wireless LAN technology is important because not only do they make systems interoperable, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers only a limited spectrum for certain standards. Specifications based on IEEE standards are being designed to eliminate conversion problems, and analysts predict that IEEE b will become the dominant standard. This will greatly enhance interoperability among wireless networks. With a transfer speed of 11 Mbps, IEEE b moves data four times faster than other methods without costing any more [4].

6 222 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) Cost Implementing a wireless system is relatively expensive, especially for small companies. After installing the network, each access point on the system costs a few thousand dollars. However, costs will continue to decline as more users enter the wireless market. 4. Implementing a wireless network Building a wireless network is a good decision for companies that intend to develop or update their LAN systems. Wireless LANs have improved considerably over the past few years, and many companies find them to be a competitive advantage once they are implemented. To ensure the success of a wireless LAN, several business process areas need to be considered. While a wireless LAN can ease a job and improve cost-effectiveness, configuring and learning the new technology may seem overwhelming to some employees, so implementation and training processes need to be handled carefully. The proposed network should evaluate the managerial, economic, operational, personnel, and technological concerns, with the decision to build a wireless network going forward if its marginal benefit to the business exceeds its marginal cost Managerial concerns Management should determine the tasks to be performed by the wireless LAN and the resources that are available. Although most tasks will be the same, the way they are performed may change drastically. For example, if someone calls a person who is not at his/her desk, the system can either leave a message, page, or call the person via a commercial cellular phone. However, the high cost of wireless phone services makes this a dubious option. If a wireless LAN is in place, employees can carry wireless phones or pagers that can be used on the corporate network at no additional cost. The wireless LAN technology makes business communications faster and less costly. The resources allocated by management to implement a wireless LAN are based on the scope of the LAN. If a wired LAN is already in place, it simply adds wireless interfaces to that LAN. Management also needs to determine if the wireless network project will be developed internally or will be outsourced to external vendors Economic concerns An economic analysis can be done to justify the cost of installing a wireless LAN. The cost of wiring a building can be exorbitant. If the business plans to relocate, remodel, or restructure its office space, a wireless LAN may be the ideal solution. If offices are relocated, users need only take the wireless networking equipment with them, thus minimizing relocation costs.

7 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) Job mobility is another factor to be considered when evaluating a wireless LAN. For example, mobility is especially important for warehouse workers who frequently move around in the warehouse. They can be accessed immediately using a wireless LAN. Also, a wireless LAN can simplify training sessions where many users need to connect their portable computers to a network Personnel concerns Employees often resist adopting a new technology. If the previous network was difficult to learn but familiarity now allows easier operation, users may want to continue doing things the old way. This is one reason to ensure that business tasks and operations are carefully tested before implementing them so employees will work with them properly from the beginning. The cost and time required for user training must be well planned. Training can be simplified if the wireless LAN is attached to the existing wired LAN or if the users computer interfaces do not undergo significant changes Technological concerns Companies find that much of the existing equipment can be used to build a new wireless LAN. Personal and notebook computers need only be equipped with wireless adapters and access points (APs) for connecting to the LAN. APs are the infrastructure components of the wireless network in essence, the wireless hubs. Each AP is connected to the corporate wired network backbone, which extends a wireless coverage zone in which mobile users can connect to the network. It is essential to adopt technology standards for wireless LANs. Unfortunately, most standards do not remain in place long because constantly evolving technology advances require yet another change. The standard chosen by a business use should be one that it can afford, and that is interoperable with technologies such as Internet Protocol (IP), Ethernet, Point-to-point Protocol (PPP), and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) [8] Other considerations A few years ago, several major computer corporations asked the FCC to allow wireless networks in the 2.4 GHz frequency range band known as the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical). Since then, they have continued to pressure the FCC to relax regulations even further and to make available a wider spectrum for the development of wireless LANs as the need for higher speeds and greater distances becomes critical to the business community. Licenses are no longer required for frequencies in the ISM band, but for microwave communications between longer distances, a license is required and the number of these licenses is limited.

8 224 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) Future impacts of wireless technology Wireless applications such as pagers, cellular phones, and satellite television have been available for a number of years. Mobile data communication is the next big industry push, and with that expectation in mind, companies are making major investments in the technology. While several recent developments in the wireless industry have failed (e.g., Mobitex messaging and Cellular Digital Packet Data services), the development of the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) has given wireless carriers sufficient confidence to introduce a new generation of wireless applications [9] The PC industry Wireless data communication impacts the PC industry in two ways. First, the industry must add wireless capability to desktop PCs used in home and business settings. Companies like Lucent, 3Com, and Cisco have developed systems that implement the IEEE b standard. The School of Management at Cornell University has tested wireless products and found that the access points and client PC cards used by wireless systems are effective tools for connecting PCs to the school LAN without sacrificing performance [10]. Another major impact on the PC industry is the use of wireless communication as a key feature in palmtop computers. 3Com s palm computers now allow users to access and more than 100 Websites The communication service industry Most common carriers now offer wireless telephone service. Sprint and MCI are actively pursuing wireless service, even more than their main competitor, AT&T, which is still focused on wired fiber optic networks. The cable television industry is also affected by wireless technology. Satellite television services, such as DirecTV and The Dish Network, have become increasingly visible in recent years. While the initial cost of installing satellite television is high, the monthly rate is generally comparable to regular cable rates. However, the picture, sound quality, and programming variety offered by satellite television have been rated very high in a recent study conducted by Consumer Reports [11]. Because of its quality and capacity, wireless television is expected to dominate future television service The microprocessor industry The microprocessor industry has also responded to the increasing demand for wireless products. In December 1999, Intel created a new Wireless Communications and Computing Group that is focused on creating cellular and wireless communication products and technologies [12]. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), one of the leading providers of wireless communications, recently formed an alliance with Motorola

9 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) [13]. As wireless technology becomes widely available, microchip manufacturers will find themselves competing to provide the needed chips General society There are more than 86 million wireless subscribers in the United States. Most subscribe to a mobile telephone service, but an increasing number of subscribers also take advantage of wireless services for palmtop computers and Web access from their mobile phones. The wireless Web refers to Websites that can be viewed from these devices, allowing users to view stock prices and sports scores any time, anywhere. Charles Schwab implemented a service that allows Palm III or Palm V PDA users to view stock prices and perform transactions with their palmtops. access via palmtops has been available for some time, but service providers are currently developing ways to send and receive messages just like desktop PCs. In another development, Chicago-based Harris Bank has built a wireless banking system that can be accessed through wireless phones [14]. E-commerce companies have already made their services available through wireless devices. On-line bookstores such as Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com were among the first retailers to offer on-line product ordering to their users. One of the best-known e-commerce companies to take advantage of wireless technology is Peapod Inc., an on-line grocery store [15]. Peapod believes that the service it provides through wireless communication is important to their customers because most people do not have PCs in their kitchens. Peapod currently offers services for the Palm VII platform, and plans to expand its service to mobile phones in the future. 6. Conclusion Wireless communication is currently experiencing an unprecedented boom. Increased use of networking technology over the past decade has led businesses to search for new solutions, thus making Internet and intranet access fast and convenient. Wireless applications provide better features to meet these needs. However, wireless communication today is not for every business. Management must evaluate its business needs and determine if a wireless LAN will be costeffective for the company. Personnel implications also need to be considered. As government regulations become more relaxed, the IEEE b standard shows promise of being widely adopted by the industry. The wireless data communication industry is confident that there will be continually evolving developments in the future. Wireless technology will improve, and wireless communication will soon be part of our everyday lives, both in business and at home.

10 226 D.C. Yen, D.C. Chou / Technology in Society 23 (2001) References [1] Stamper DA. Business data communications. Reading (MA): Addison Wesley, [2] Kahaner L. Clear signals for wireless LANs. Information Week 1999;(October 11):3 4. [3] Network Computing. Wireless broadband and other fixed wireless systems. Tech Web 1999;1 7. [4] Gowan M. How it works: wireless networking. PC World 2000;(April):3 4. [5] Manson C. If it s wireless, it must be data. America s Network 1999;(July 15):13. [6] Koudounas V. Modern living USA [Online]. Avalilable at [7] Chowdhary S. Wireless LANs: moving business. Networking 1999;(May 15):68. [8] Carew S. Standard opens door to fast wireless LANs. Network News 2000;(February 23):24. [9] Sweeny T. Eye catching the eyes have it eye-catching applications to lure customers to wireless data, along with eye-popping expectations for success. PC World 1999;(December):5 6. [10] Bethoney H. Wireless within corporate reach. PC Week 2000;(April 17):61. [11] Consumer Reports. Wired or wireless? Decision 1. Cable vs. satellite. Consumer Reports 1999;(December):34. [12] Rohde L. Intel creates wireless group [Online]. Available at [13] Motorola. AMD and Motorola announce plans for strategic technology alliance [Online]. Available at [14] Chen A. Wireless banking checks in at Harris. PC Week 2000;(March 20):70. [15] Deckmyn D. Wireless Web access will be vital to e-commerce. Computer World 2000;(January 10): David C. Yen is Professor of Management Information Systems (MIS) and Chair of the Department of Decision Sciences and Management Information Systems at Miami University. He received a Ph.D. in MIS and Master of Sciences in Computer Science from the University of Nebraska. Professor Yen is active in research, he has published two books and over 150 articles which have appeared in Communications of the ACM, Information & Management, International Journal of Information Management, Journal of Computer Information Systems, Interface, Telematics and Informatics, and Internet Research, among others. He was also one of the co-recipients for a number of grants such as Cleveland Foundation ( ), GE Foundation (1989), and Microsoft Foundation ( ). David C. Chou is Professor of Computer Information Systems at Eastern Michigan University. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Georgia State University. Professor Chou has published more than 130 articles and papers in the fields of software engineering, systems design, telecommunications, the Internet, and electronic commerce. His articles have appeared in journals such as Technology in Society, Computer Standards and Interfaces, Information Systems Management, Total Quality Management, Internet Research, Industrial Management and Data Systems, International Journal of Technology Management, Interfaces, Information Management and Computer Security, Journal of Education for Business, and Information Executive: The Executive Journal, among others.

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