Lucent has prototyped wireless ATM technology that could bring high speed multimedia networking to mobile computers. A 10Mbps wireless Lan is already being tested at Lucent's Bell Laboratories research and development arm, but commercial products will take at least five years to be widely available.
The first phase of the research project focuses on a 10Mbps wireless Lan that can carry data, voice and video with guaranteed bandwidth. This avoids one of the downsides of current wireless technology, which requires large amounts of bandwidth to be reserved if a packet must be delivered without delay. The prototype Lan runs between two network segments on wireless base stations, currently with infrared links, although Lucent is working on a radio alternative. A Lucent protocol distributes the bandwidth among all the users on the segments according to their application type. If a user of full motion video, with its high bandwidth requirement, moves from one end station to another, the bandwidth allocation is automatically shifted too, after only a short delay, said Kai Eng, head of backbone research at Bell Laboratories.
The base stations link to the rest of the enterprise network via 155Mbps ATM over fibre.
The second phase of the project will involve more powerful base stations that allow nationwide wireless multimedia networks to be established.
Lucent is also working with the ATM Forum standards body on industry specifications for wireless ATM.
Pilot products could be available as early as two years away, but widespread adoption will depend not only on reliable technology but also on the existence of standards and on reasonable prices. So far, wireless networking has been slow to take off, especially for large scale corporate systems, because of its relatively high costs and slow performance. It also requires greater investment in technical support and skills than traditional Lans because of its technological complexity, a factor that is likely to apply also to wireless ATM.
* Also on the wireless front, the US Federal Communications Commission has authorised the use of unlicensed wireless Lans. The FCC voted to free up 300MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz range for unlicensed products, which means users can create Lans without paying for airtime from telecomms suppliers, said FCC chair Reed Hundt. However, unlicensed spectrum will be subject to higher levels of interference and error than licensed wireless networks offered by telcos.
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