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Not Your Father's WiFi

It's remarkable how quickly a technology can seem passé or dated in today's rapidly changing enterprise networking environment. WiFi, for instance, which two years ago was seen as a hot new technology for providing wireless connections both within corporate offices and in public spaces, has received some bad ink lately for its security shortcomings among other reasons.

Some IT managers have refused to implement 802.11 networks, while others have decided to wait on WiMax and other wireless broadband technologies that are currently less advanced than WiFi, but could overtake 802.11-based networks in the next few years.

In the past couple of weeks, however, we've reported in Unstrung on several creative new uses of WiFi that promise to take 802.11 beyond the coffee shop, as it were, and into some unforeseen applications.

Consider:

  • In the University of Texas at Dallas' new $85 million Natural Science and Engineering Laboratory, scheduled to be finished late this year, a Meru Networks Inc. WiFi network -- the centerpiece of the campus-wide system that will be finished by 2008 -- will help promote interaction and collaboration among scientists and students in different fields. (See Open, Unwired Design.)

  • Startup mesh vendor Firetide Inc. has developed a network for Silicon Valley-based Bob Lewis Family Dealerships that blends WiFi mesh with RFID to enable quicker test drives and more data collection in the auto dealer's parking lot. (See Cars, Radios & RFID.)

  • By installing a wireless network using handheld devices from Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) in its 25 distribution centers, Alameda, Calif.-based shipping firm Golden State Overnight has reduced the average morning loading time for its corps of drivers to 10 minutes from 45 minutes. GSO has also reaped an unexpected benefit from the new system. Warehouse supervisors have begun using the devices to prepare the loads overnight for pick up in the mornings. (See Shipper Transforms With Wireless.)


Golden State Overnight's deployment of a WiFi network for one reason and realization of significant collateral advantages in the process is indicative, I'd say, of where this relatively humble technology is heading. Not only is WiFi not just for coffee shops and downtown public plazas anymore, it's not just for corporate boardrooms either.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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