How fast will Wi-Fi become?
It's hard to say, but compare it to the wired industry. The Internet was
10 megabits (per second) for a very long time. Then they went to 100 megabits. Now it's
at 1 gigabit, and soon, 10 gigabits. If you extrapolate that to
wireless, the dream might be also going in that direction--as soon as we
get spectrum, though.
Can Wi-Fi attain that speed and still have a 300-foot range?
It will likely work over distances. When we were working very hard on
the first standard, the thought was that the best you could do was 2
megabits. It has to do with reflections. It's like a big cathedral, when
a reverend is talking too fast. You can't hear it anymore because one
syllable is overthrown by syllables he spoke a few seconds ago. He has
to talk slowly to be able to be heard.
So what's going to be the biggest technology impediment to the
widespread adoption of Wi-Fi?
Technology-wise I do not see any impediment. The main impediment is the
market and the investment to develop the market. Wi-Fi will come to
business use in laptops, anyway. It is just a matter of using it and
installing access points in offices.
Given that there's scarcity of spectrum, how do we get any more of
it? Is that even possible?
There is spectrum in the higher frequency range, but the technology is
still too expensive for the markets. In the current spectrum, we can
still find ways to share with the users that have the spectrum
allocated. Currently, we are conducting sharing studies with the NTIA
(National Telecommunications and Information Administration) in the
5470 to 5725MHz area.
You're talking about breaking the gigabit barrier. How fast do you think
Wi-Fi transmission rates can reasonably become by the year 2005?
By 2005, I estimate that we reach over the 100mbps speed.
IEEE 802.11 currently has a study group that is looking into asking for
a project authorization.
What's realistic? Once we reach that level, do you think that it will
change the way we work and communicate using technology?
We would have much more visual information and animation in our daily
tasks and answers to questions. We would get an explanation of how to
mount a part in an assembly. Or the warehouse picker, the one that picks
up and collects devices in a warehouse, would rather see the device he
has to pick up on a screen than have to look for a part number.
What industries that don't use wireless will incorporate it into
their next class of devices?
It is likely they will be integrated into home-automation and energy-control systems, letting users know how to use sun or wind energy at the best time, how to bake the best apple pie or rinse laundry using the least amount of detergent.
What sorts of devices do you think will include wireless capability
that you don't currently find using the technology?
Anything that needs communications or control will be wirelessly
connected--from your freezer to the TV, from the light switch to the most
sophisticated laptop. Wireless will be ubiquitous.
Is it just a matter of smaller, faster, cheaper--or will there be
something on a breakthrough level?
For one thing, making the devices smaller, faster and cheaper will
enable a breakthrough by itself.
Spectrum is the most scarce resource. We need more than there is
(currently) available. What is available has already been given out to
multiple users and services. To make the use of the spectrum more
efficient, and yet share it with other users, will be the most important
You say wireless technology will get built into anything that needs
communications for control. But considering where we are today, that
sounds like a huge undertaking. How long do you think this will take and
what will be needed to make it happen?
It will depend on whether the entrepreneurs see a market in it.
Won't that always be the case, or is there something standing in the
way of what could potentially become a huge industry?
Sure. In this case, the turning point will depend on price versus
savings, or ease of use and installing the control devices. I am looking
backward, say, around 1970. There was a huge difference between an
office machine and a computer, a chip and a computer, a PBX (telephone
network equipment) and a computer. I saw the differences fading away.
Computers are now the main engines in office equipment like copiers. A
computer on a chip is the reality and a PBX is a special-purpose
computer. You will see computers entering into (kitchen) ranges, into the internal heating and
cooling, and the climate control. All will have wireless communications
for control. Where the breakthrough would be is unknown to me.
When you say wireless will be everywhere, do you mean that literally--for instance, the capability will get built into wristwatches?
Again, that is just a matter of which entrepreneur will develop which
Will this likely come from the entrepreneurial community or will it
be something that established industries, for instance, watchmakers will clasp onto?
Established industries could very well be the entrepreneurs in this
case. They hold the know-how of the market and the channels. And they
need to be innovative to keep market share. There seems to be no limit
to the kind of device that can be wireless. Does the world need a
wireless washing machine? There are limits, but even a washing machine
can be integrated in a domestic energy-control program to balance the
energy used when available and when most effective.
When you were developing what became Wi-Fi, how large were your
ambitions. What was your realistic expectation?
I personally wanted to have it everywhere.
Does Wi-Fi have a boundary?
A study group was just set up in 802.11 (standards committee) for going
beyond 100 megabits. There's still some research to see how to further
use the frequencies and radios. It would either need a bigger, more
powerful cell (radio) or lots of little ones. We're not very keen on
making a big cell, which has lots of frequency needs. We'd rather have
smaller cells, which don't use as much frequency. You have to create
additional frequency out of nothing, like reusing the frequency.
Why do it?
People are speed-hungry. If you see what is possible nowadays with
streaming video, then you really need it. Streaming needs to go beyond
11mbps to be successful. There are more applications that are bit-rate
Back to Vision Series