Wireless Nation

December 21, 2004

Adapted from the Missouri Meetings & Events Expo presentation by Euclid Strayhorn

If you don’t know what a hot spot is, you need to find it! No, it isn’t on your body – it is probably in a public place. And Euclid Strayhorn is here to help you find it.

Over the past year, Euclid Strayhorn, CMP, director of conferences and food services for TripleXpresso’s Conference Center in St. Louis, has presented a session called “Understanding Wireless Communication” at the Missouri Meeting & Events expos in St. Louis and Kansas City. We’ve discovered that this topic is relevant not just for businesspeople, but for planners who are on the go and in various locations at all times. For them, wireless technology is critical to success. This article, as well as its accompanying “Wireless Glossary,” will help you more clearly understand the technology behind the language of wireless communication.

It all begins with engineers
Wireless technology is a way of networking computers together without the traditional limitations and costs of a wired network. With wireless technology, you have the freedom to access your e-mail, the Internet and even your company network anywhere you have access to a wireless network. Wireless technology lets you stay connected in public places such as airports, hotels and restaurants.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is a leading authority in technical areas ranging from computer engineering, biomedical technology and telecommunications, to electric power, aerospace and consumer electronics, among others.

The official IEEE standard for wireless networking is Wi-Fi, which stands for “wireless fidelity.” Technically, it’s known as 802.11 and comes in three main flavors: 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11a. Today, the most popular and least expensive version is usually 802.11b.  According to PCworld.com, a new wireless networking standard, 802.11n, will be at least twice as fast as 802.11g, with throughput speeds of at least 100 megabits per second. It’s also expected to cover twice as much area as 802.11g, be backward compatible with 802.11b and 11g, and maintain its speed in a mixed network.

Let us not forget about WiMAX, or 802.16, a fast-emerging wide-area wireless broadband technology that shows great promise as the “last mile” solution for bringing high-speed Internet access into homes and businesses.

While the more familiar Wi-Fi* (802.11a, b and g) handles local areas, such as in offices or hot spots, WiMAX covers wider metropolitan and rural areas. It can provide data rates up to 75 megabits per second (Mbps) per base station with typical cell sizes of 2 to 10 kilometers. This is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1/E1-type connectivity and hundreds of homes with DSL-type connectivity through a single base station.

WiMAX is all about delivering broadband wireless access to the masses. It represents an inexpensive alternative to digital subscriber lines (DSL) and cable broadband access.

Increased speed and the introduction of industry standards such as IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g and 802.11a and WECA Wi-Fi have helped wireless networks offer cost-effective flexibility for growing businesses. Wi-Fi, or Wireless Fidelity technology, uses the same networking standards as Ethernet, or wired networks, with a comparable look and feel.


So what are hot spots?
Basically, hot spots, or access points, are small cell sites covering an area of around 300 meters.  Depending upon where your router is located, your coverage in a building can be on another floor or two flights below.

Public venues with hot spots include airports, hotels, and convention centers, as well as Starbucks® coffee shops, Panera Bread stores and McDonald’s® restaurants. To find a public hot spot, look for a sign indicating that the location is WiFi certified.


How do I access a hot spot?
To access a hot spot, you need a Wi-Fi-enabled access device — most often a laptop computer with built-in wireless connectivity or a Wi-Fi adapter card. Today, computers, PDAs, and other devices are sold pre-equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities such as Bluetooth technology.


What does the average person need to know about WiFi?
Each access point has a network name or service set identifier (SSID). You need to configure your wireless device with a profile to correspond to the hot spot you are trying to access.  Unless your computer is set up to access any available network, then your computer will automatically connect. If you wish to access a public Wi-Fi hot spot, you may need to ask for network configuration information and pay a small fee. If you set up your own hot spot in your office, you establish the network name and encryption scheme.

Many wireless adapters provide an interface that easily allows you to create a new profile, and switch between profiles.


How about security?
Security is critical in wireless networking. Remember, your data may be vulnerable when using a public hot spot, as others are on the same network. Also, to make access easier, typical public hot spots are set up without encryption, increasing vulnerability. For public hot spots that do use encryption, you need to obtain the encryption key. If you establish your own office hot spot or network, seriously consider encryption schemes to protect your network and data. Common types of encryption are WEP and WPA.


How much does all this cost?
A Wi-Fi adapter card for a laptop computer can cost from $50 to $100, or even less. A full-fledged access point typically can cost anywhere from $150 to $300, depending on the equipment you select.


What’s the connection between your computer and your palm pilot?
The connection is via cradle, data cable or…wireless, which means that you pay for both a wireless modem (either built into the PDA or as an add on), and a monthly service contract to connect to the WAP-Internet anywhere, anytime, provided you are in a service zone.

It also means that your personal digital assistant (PDA) does WEB Clipping. It’s a fast way to access the Internet wirelessly. Instead of a Web page, get a condensed, efficient format that’s fast and easy to read. Web clipping applications are included in many PDAs to give you the news, stock quotes, online trading information, and a host of Internet information in a text-based format.


What are the practical applications of wireless technology for a planner?
A Palm Pilot provides you with wireless Internet connectivity. Your Palm Pilot allows you to beam information to other palm pilots. Complete meeting information can be beamed to a Palm Pilot — your meeting agenda, schedule, pictures and even video. Imagine attending a conference where you receive a PDA with information on all of the exhibitors and a layout of every conference event location, and your exhibitor receives complete information on you that can be transmitted back to the office in an instant.

For your next meeting, secure your own T1 access line, add your own wireless router and provide your attendees with a meeting hot spot free of charge. How about an afternoon wireless coffee break?  Invite your attendees to connect and have coffee at the same time!

Setting up a wireless network allows you to enhance your services to clients, whether you are doing so as a planner or supplier. Wireless reliability means increased business. Your return on investment is either increased business or increased meeting attendance.  Imagine wireless connectivity in a classroom-style meeting with 50 to 100 laptops utilizing wireless connectivity.  By being wireless, you help your attendees maintain a virtual office while on the road!


Setting Up A Wireless Network for a Home Office or Small Business
So you are convinced – wireless is the way to go! Here is what you will need to set up your wireless office:

  • A wireless broadband router (Dell, Linksys, etc.)
  • A wireless PC network card
  • A broadband Internet connection or an existing Local Area Network (LAN)
  • (An additional fee may be required for Internet access.)

Setting It Up
If you choose to set it up yourself, there are a few things you can do to help ensure the best performance for your wireless network.

Center Your Router. Place your wireless broadband router or access point near the center of your network. Mount the router as high as possible in the room.  If your network needs to cover two stories, you may need a separate router for each floor.

Reduce Interference. Place your broadband router/access point away from computers, televisions, microwaves and cordless phones. Some Wireless products operate at 2.4 GHz, the same frequency as many small appliances.

Connecting Your Router. Use a Cat-5 Ethernet cable to connect your DSL or cable modem to the WAN port located on the back of your broadband router. Your access point also can be connected to a Local Area Network with an Ethernet cable.

Installing a Network Card. To transmit data to a wireless network, your notebook or desktop computer will require a wireless PC network card. PC network cards come in three formats: internal, which is a card that is hardwired into your notebook, otherwise known as a Mini-PCI card; or external, which is a separate PC network card that needs to be plugged into your notebook’s PC card slot (commonly located on the side of a notebook).

USB Wireless Adapter. This is a separate device that can be plugged into the USB port of a desktop.

Once your wireless network is in place, you need to create a unique identifier to access the network; this can be done with the software that comes with the router.


How is wireless charged for in hotels, meeting facilities and resorts?
Check around. The Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center in St. Louis charges $100 for an ISDN line hookup, with a cost of $15 for each additional hookup.  TripleXpresso’s Conference Center offers free Internet access as well as a couple of hot spots. The Holiday Inn Southwest and Viking Conference Center, also in St. Louis, offers free 802.11b wireless access in all of its sleeping rooms and meeting room.  You can actually park in the hotel’s parking lot and, if your laptop is configured right, access the Internet.


What are the challenges of wireless and is it here to stay?
I believe that the next wave of personal productivity is going to be all about mobility — being able to get access anywhere.

Independent studies have shown that people use their notebooks 30 percent more once they have wireless access.  Independent studies also have shown that notebook users average around eight hours of new productivity per week when they receive wireless networking capability. During the next five to 10 years, industry after industry will turn to wireless to boost productivity.  The need for widespread mobility marks today’s most strategic businesses.

Wi-Fi will be instrumental in bringing broadband wireless to homes and offices, providing the backhaul for hot spots, and eventually connecting users to the Internet in all places.

Euclid C. Strayhorn, CMP, is Director of Conferences and Food Services at TripleXpresso’s Conference Center. Chapter of MPI and has served on MPI’s International Council of Chapter President, Starwoods Hotel and Resorts Meeting Advisory Board, as a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, and is currently serving on MPI’s International Technology Committee.

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.