Coming to Terms with Wireless

E-mail Tom Kevan

Wireless communications have not yet achieved plug-and-play status; however, neither are they the magic sold by flim-flam artists. The wireless market desperately needs to educate potential users to set realistic expectations. Wireless installations work, but only after both the technology provider and the user tackle the glitches that inevitably arise.

It's still new
Wireless networking is new technology, and following its well-established wired cousin has not been easy. Most people have forgotten the days when their office's hard-wired network was the weak link in the digital communications infrastructure. Today, these networks can be counted on to work all the time.

That's not the case with wireless networks. Reliability has always been an issue and is the major hurdle to broad acceptance. The open question for most applications is: Will it work? It's not that the market doesn't recognize the advantages that wireless networking offers; it's that too many users just don't understand what it takes to make an implementation work.

Value, yes; simplicity, no
"At a high level, people really understand the value of wireless sensor networking," says Joerg Bertholdt, vice president of marketing for Crossbow Technology. "But the overall market is still fairly uneducated about what it takes to get a successful installation going. You don't just take a radio, put a sensor on it, put an enclosure on it, and that's it. It has to be thought through as an end-to-end system. You have to deal with a lot of uncertainties, such as the environment that you are in. You have to establish stable radio communication. You must have the right backend. So it is hardware development, software development, application-level development, and integration with enterprise systems."

As with other applications, users want to adopt the technology as a tool that makes them more efficient. The natural inclination is to try to avoid wrestling with issues such as latencies or transmission ranges between nodes. Unfortunately, as with hard-wired networks, the pioneers deploying wireless networks will eventually have to reach a deeper technical understanding of this communications medium.

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