Friday, July 06, 2007

Keeping Up With The Wi-Fi Joneses

If you live, or work, in a multi-unit building, it's too late for a wireless network. Everyone else is already engaged in a silent battle of the bandwidth that you--believe me--don't want to join.

Wi-Fi as we know it came into being in 2000 (the technical specifications of which were established in October 1999), and the modern equivalent of it in 2003. That's seven years.

Seven years to saturation.

Wi-Fi "network space" is an invisible cloud surrounding a Wi-Fi access point (Apple cutely calls these devices AirPorts) rudely disregarding walls. A maximum of three (you can sometimes get away with four if the devices are configured "just right" which they never are) Wi-Fi networks can function reliably in any single overlapping cloudy Wi-Fi radio environment without incurring serious interference problems such as network bumping. This means that ten, or five, or even four do not function as expected.

I am not compelled to do much Wi-Fi surveying on-site these days to know the score. In the Bay area, unbeknownst to residents, many apartments, condos, and multi-unit commercial buildings are already over-saturated with eight to a dozen (or more) Wi-Fi transmitters bashing each other with feeble radio-wave bludgeons.

It's way too late to install new service for those who want reliable service. The Joneses have beat us to it, but manufacturers don't want us to know what we need to know. Even in many single-family residential areas of the East Bay, clients for whom I installed Wi-Fi networks a few years ago are now eager, in their consternation, to understand why the network I installed isn't working any longer. In short: the new neighbors installed their chic new Wi-Fi network which is now doing a tap dance on theirs.

Microwave ovens and cordless phones: These ubiquitous items do not mix with Wi-Fi! The microwave oven that heats that one last cup of cold coffee is using 2.4 GHz microwave radio waves to do it. This is the resonant frequency of H2O, and also the radio frequency used by Wi-Fi access points. The ever-present cordless phones--far worse the offenders--if they aren't next door, they're on the same desk as your own Wi-Fi box.

The Joneses next door have us between a rock and a hard place with their 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network, 2.4 GHz microwave oven, and multiple 2.4 GHz cordless telephone handsets. Condos and small business buildings are filled with people scratching their heads, and swearing under their breaths, at the Wi-Fi network that won't let them stay connected. Plug and Play, right? Says so right here on the box.

Manufacturers of Wi-Fi equipment are not stupid--they can smell a buck or two in the beckoning backwaters of obsolescence. Wi-Fi is approaching the frustration level of obsolescence and soon the Joneses will toss out their "old" Wi-Fi hardware for the "new and improved" Wi-Fi that is immune to the current bunch of rowdy access points. This strategy will work until everyone else on the block also has the "new and improved" Wi-Fi flavor. By that time, Wi-Max will boot them all into oblivion--but that's another story. Ahh, progress!

I'm considering canceling my landline phone service. Now that's progress!

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