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Wi-Fi – Today’s Pioneering Broadband Wireless Technology

All broadband technologies can lead to enormous economic and social benefits for peoples of every development level. The key to success is a combination of favorable regulatory, economic and development strategies that support broadband deployment.

Zambia now offers the ubiquitous ability of a wireless communications network that has been always been thought to be the main advantage of a mobile communications network. Sub-Saharan mobile communications networks have lately grown in capacity, robustness and coverage. What determines the choice of a network now is the value added services and applications that it is able to offer. Most networks have attained their optimum speed in the provision of data services and in GSM, which most, if not all sub-Saharan networks are offering – the maximum data rates can only get up to 9600 kbps. This has to be in a good coverage area.

We have seen that even mobile service providers such as Celtel are offering a wireless internet service which is good for many Internet users as they can access internet anywhere were there is a Celtel network. Even Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also started offering Wi-fi and Wi-max services. The only problem is that the service which is still elitist is still not affordable for many Zambian internet users. In many cases the setting up of the service plus monthly subscription is over $500US dollars. While some individuals now have internet access at home many customers of the wireless services is still at organisational level. The other problem is that many Zambians still need to buy computers as many still access internet facilities from the Internet cafes, resources centers, libraries and at their working places.

One of the main goals of the current emerging communications technologies has been to offer all the services available in the wired world in the wireless world. The desire is to make the fixed mobile. The goal is to make all the conveniences of a home or office mobile. We want to have our phone calls wherever we are, and at anytime. This has been achieved with ease by means of a wireless mobile communications technology. But this is only the beginning. Now we want to get latest news items anywhere anytime.

Doctors want to know the status of their patients without calling them. Governments want their citizens to get necessary government information without physically visiting the government office. Why, some governments even want their citizens to submit tax returns without visiting the tax office. Hence we have tele medicine, e-government, tele working, distance learning and e-commerce among the many things services that the mobility challenge has given birth to.

However, experience has show that most of these E-services cannot replace the traditional services. Key among these is the Internet. A lot has been done to try and make the internet mobile. This is so because the internet has practically become a part of every literate and medium income African individual. Businesses are actually thriving on the internet for their purchases orders, stock quotes, communication, research, advertising, e.t.c. Since the internet has become so important, the desire now has been to have the internet anytime, everywhere. Technologies such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) have been employed in some handsets all in an effort to try and give the internet mobility.

Can you imagine life without a mobile phone or life without the Internet? We want the mobile phone and internet to be always with us. This has been mainly due to mobility and handy nature of the cell phone. But, alas, WAP technology has lamentably failed to provide the Internet as we know it, on the cell phone. The main draw backs have been the limited screen size and the speed. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) phone user can only go up to 9600 kbps and the Cellular network provider will definitely have a field day on you downloading a huge file. With internet access on the mobile phone, the screen size is a very big constraint to many. People don’t want to see small dark or hazy images in the name of the internet.

The above concerns have given rise to a technology called Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity. Wi-Fi is a wireless technology like a cell phone. Wi-Fi enabled computers send and receive data indoors and out; anywhere within the range of a base station and the best thing of all, it’s fast. In fact, it’s several times faster than the fastest cable modem connection.

The Wi-Fi technologies

Wi-Fi networks use radio technologies to provide secure, reliable, fast wireless connectivity. A Wi-Fi network can be used to connect computers to each other, to the Internet, and to wired networks. Large corporations and campuses use enterprise-level technology and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED wireless products to extend standard wired Ethernet networks to public areas like meeting rooms, training classrooms and large auditoriums. Many corporations also provide wireless networks to their off-site and telecommuting workers to use at home or in remote offices. Large companies and campuses often use Wi-Fi to connect buildings. Service providers and wireless ISPs are using Wi-Fi technology to distribute Internet connectivity within individual homes and businesses as well as apartments and commercial complexes.

Wi-Fi networks are also found in busy public places like coffee shops, hotels, airport lounges and other locations where large crowds gather. At the Lusaka International Airport there is a free wireless network being offered by Afri-Connect.Wireless Networks for travelers may be the fastest-growing segment of Wi-Fi service, as more and more travelers and mobile professionals clamor for fast and secure Internet access wherever they are. Soon, Wi-Fi networks will be found in urban areas providing coverage throughout the central city, or even lining major highways, enabling traveler’s access anywhere they can pull over and stop.

In the wire less service, Wi-Fi devices “connect” to each other by transmitting and receiving signals on a specific frequency of the radio band. Your components can connect to each other directly (this is called “peer-to-peer”) or through a gateway or access point. When you create your Wi-Fi network it will consist of two basic components: Wi-Fi radios and access points or gateways.

Wi-Fi radios are embedded or attached to the desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices in your network. The access points or gateways act as “base stations” — they send and receive signals from the Wi-Fi radios to connect the various components to each other as well as to the Internet. All computers in your Wi-Fi network can then share resources, exchange files and use a single Internet connection.

Distance from the Base Station

One of the factors that affects range and performance of a Wi-Fi network is the distance of the client devices (your Wi-Fi equipment) to your base station (your access point or gateway). In an open area with no walls, furniture or interfering radio devices, you may be able to get a range of 500 feet or more from your base station to your Wi-Fi equipped computer. In fact, you could get a signal from up to a mile away depending on the antennas you use and environmental conditions.

Many base stations can also act as repeater or relay stations for your network. For example, if you locate one Wi-Fi equipped computer 100 feet away from your base station, another Wi-Fi computer 100 feet away in another direction, and then position your base station in the middle, you can create a network with a range of 200 feet from one Wi-Fi computer to the other.

Wi-Fi, or IEEE 802.11b, speed decreases the further you move from the base station. For example, when you are close to the base station, your Wi-Fi computer should be able to get the full 11 Mbps data rate. Move further away, and depending on environment, the data rate will drop to 5.5 Mbps. Move even further, and the data rate will drop to 2 Mbps, and finally to 1 Mbps. But getting just 1 Mbps through put is still a perfectly acceptable performance level. 1 Mbps is faster than most DSL and cable connections, which means it’s still a satisfactory high-speed transmission if you’re sending and receiving e-mail, cruising the Internet or just performing data entry tasks from a mobile computer.

How Does Wi-Fi Compare to Other Networking Methods?

No other networking technology used to set up a small home or SOHO network provides the convenience or mobility of a Wi-Fi network. That’s because other methods, including standard wired Ethernet networks and phone line- and power line-based networks, all require a connection via wire or cable. Wi-Fi uses radio waves that travel through walls and floors and connect you anywhere, indoors or out.

Networks based on phone lines, also called HomePNA, must have a phone jack close to the computer or peripheral that is to be networked with the rest of your system. Unfortunately, most homes have only two or three phone outlets — or even just one! — And these outlets may not be where you want to put your computer, printer or other device. You may have problems with this type of network based on the quality of your phone line installation and especially if you have numerous phone devices plugged into each wall jack.

Networks based on power lines, also called HomePlug, have location problems, too. Of course, there are many more power outlets in a home than there are phone plugs, but power plugs may not be where you need them when you need them, especially outdoors.

Power line networks are often more expensive than Wi-Fi based equipment. Power line networks can experience interference from transformers, large appliances, power strips, surge protectors and even common “wall warts” (DV power supplies). In addition, apartments and condominiums that share power lines may also inadvertently share access to confidential files and information on the computers that are attached to the power line network — even if users think they’ve established tight security protections.

These technologies don’t allow you to just pick up your laptop or PDA and go anywhere in your home or small office and begin working or continue working in another location without losing contact with your network. Working outside on your patio or next to the pool is an impossibility. And since power-line — and phone line-based networks aren’t available at “HotSpots” (e.g., airports, hotels and cafes), localized access networks or at the office, they can’t be used when traveling or working in a corporate office.

Social and Economic Benefits of Wireless Broadband

Broadband deployment is an ongoing process, not a one-time transition. The introduction of broadband technologies, including but not limited to Wi-Fi, WiMax, DSL, fiber, satellite, and other fixed and mobile wireless, has enabled traditional and new forms of communication to become a reality throughout the world. Because physical infrastructure and geography are vastly different from country to country, technology that works well in one geographic area may not work as well in another. Therefore, it is up to each individual locality – whether it is a village, city, province or country – to determine the technologies that best meet its needs.

However, one fact that cuts across every region is that broadband technologies enable many applications that provide enormous benefits to citizens. It is clear that current generation technologies do not meet the high bandwidth requirements for emerging applications that combine voice, video and data. Because the demand for technological progress is constantly growing, localities that are looking to upgrade their current telecommunications infrastructure or are looking to install new infrastructure should consider the future needs of their citizens when examining the most appropriate systems to install.

Broadband networks can reduce the disadvantages of low population density and physical remoteness from cities. Moreover, with the advent of broadband technologies, myriad applications become possible or are enhanced beyond their current capabilities with dial-up Internet access. Some of the applications made possible or enhanced with broadband include Tele-medicine, Tele-working, E-Government, E-Agriculture, Distance Learning, Public Safety, Small Business Assistance, Information Gathering, Tourism, E-Commerce and Entertainment.

While this is not an exhaustive list, these applications comprise some of the most important and popular applications for which broadband can be used. The applications described above offer only a glimpse of what are currently possible using broadband technologies. With the advent of improvements to existing technologies and the introduction of new technologies in the future, new applications will also be deployed, furthering the opportunities for economic growth and social development internationally.

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