Hom RF a Better Wireless Solution?
Wireless networks are growing at an exponential rate. It’s no wonder they’re so popular – there are no wires to trip over, there’s no need to drill holes in walls, and the hardware is cheap enough for home users to afford easily.
Lately, Wi-Fi (the 802.11b protocol) is stealing all the headlines. Wi-Fi can let you have wireless access anywhere in the world, in theory, but the news about Wi-Fi isn’t all good. Security and hacking issues abound, and clearly Wi-Fi is still finding it place
Home RF, another wireless technology, has been left in the dust. While it does have its limitations, Home RF has a lot to offer both home users and small businesses. In some situations, a full-blown Wi-Fi setup is overkill, and more trouble than it’s worth. These are the situations where Home RF is the ideal choice.
Note to readers: Bluetooth is another wireless technology but there isn’t space in this column to discuss Bluetooth as well. I’ll file that one away and try to address it in a future space.
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Home RF uses the same unlicensed 2.4 GHz band as other wireless technologies. However, instead of sending data at one frequency (like Wi-Fi), Home RF hops between frequencies. The access point and the client change frequencies every time they exchange data. This offers two pluses for Home RF users – not only is this transmission method (called spread spectrum frequency hopping) a good way to avoid interference, but it’s also a good way to keep transmissions secure
Security in Wi-Fi is a little dicey. If you’re a home user or a small business owner who doesn’t have a network administrator around, keeping your wireless network secure using Wi-Fi can be a difficult task. Improperly secured Wi-Fi networks (and most do lack sufficient security) can be hacked even by people who don’t mean to – hackers intentionally infiltrate some, but even a clueless neighbor can end up with access to your home network. This won’t happen with Home RF.
Frequency hopping also helps protect your Home RF network from the interference many Wi-Fi networks encounter. The problem with the 2.4 GHz band relates to its strength – anyone can use it, as it is unlicensed. This includes wireless devices, but it also includes microwave ovens, baby monitors and other household devices. Interestingly, microwave ovens are a major enemy of wireless networks because they also use the 2.4 GHz band.
Wi-Fi is especially subject to interference from microwave ovens because it employs direct-sequence spread spectrum technology. This method uses a pattern of frequencies to send data within the 2.4 GHz band. This pattern is static – if interference is encountered, Wi-Fi can’t get around it.
Home RF is a bit more robust. While heavy interference will slow down a Home RF network, the transmission of data will continue. Home RF device signals will just hop around the interference and continue to transmit.
If you think you don’t need to worry about interference because you don’t have a microwave near your wireless devices, consider your cordless phone. Many phones operate at 2.4 GHz, too, and placing one next to a Wi-Fi device can cause significant interference.
Speed is an Issue
Wi-Fi proponents frequently argue that Home RF is just too slow for practical LAN use. This has been true in the past – early versions of Home RF clocked in at just 1.6 Mbps, which is far too slow for most users. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, reaches theoretical data transfer rates of 11 Mbps. No contest – at least, there wasn’t.
Home RF 2.0 is much faster than the previous version, reaching transfer rates of 10 Mbps. In October 2001, Proxim released the first line of products supporting Home RF 2.0. These are not only quicker but moderately priced, too – a Home RF base station can be purchased for less than $200, and network cards for less than $100.
Wi-Fi systems boast a transmission radius of 330 feet – that is, you can have two Wi-Fi devices as far apart as 330 feet and they will communicate. Home RF devices only communicate within a 150-foot range.
This lack of range may seem limiting for Home RF, but when you consider that many businesses using Wi-Fi accidentally link their network to wireless devices in the parking lot, the street, and in other offices, reducing the range might actually be a feature.
Function Ultimately Determines Form
The wireless technology you choose really depends upon your unique situation.
If you’re trying to provide wireless Internet connectivity for anonymous visitors in an airport terminal, or if you’re trying to link thousands of students to a library at a college, then Home RF is simply not going to work for you. The same is true if you need to support wireless handheld devices – you’re not going to have a lot of luck with Home RF. Wi-Fi is much better suited for such applications, including blanket wireless Internet coverage of large geographical areas.
But if you’re looking for an easy way to put together a small LAN that includes ease of installation and low maintenance, then you should seriously consider Home RF instead of Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi practically necessitates the involvement of a security expert who can make sure your valuable data is locked up tight.
Thousands of businesses have introduced serious security holes by adding Wi-Fi capability – it’s so bad that some institutions have banned its use. To be fair, the new 802.11a standard offers hope of better security and less interference for Wi-Fi, but 802.11a is a fairly new technology, and the hardware may still be too expensive for casual wireless users. Home RF gives you inexpensive wireless ability combined with security, and it doesn’t require an expert to check for holes that Wi-Fi so often leaves.
Jackie Rosenberger is an editor with iEntry, Inc.