Category: Wireless Networking

Use of WiFi technology for safety and security

Ekahau Enhances Staff Safety of Hospital Psychiatric Wards

My comments on this issue

The Ekahau press release that is linked to from this article details the use of a WiFi-based staff badge that can be used to locate particular staff members in the hospital’s psychiatric ward and deliver messages to them.  But the feature that drew me to this device was the remote panic-alarm functionality that sends its signal via the hospital’s WiFi network.

Any panic-alarm or medical-alert system that is deployed in the home typically requires a transmitter and receiver working on a dedicated frequency, in a similar manner to garage-door openers.  If they are monitored by an external agency, the devices then transmit their alert signal to the monitoring station via a dedicated telephone or cellular circuit.

Now there is a different reality being brought about with cost-effective Internet service provided to WiFi-based wireless home networks in many households. This has included the concept of providing telephone and multi-channel television service through the same pipe, all thanks to the magic of IP-based packet networks. The classic circuit-based signalling methods used by these alarm devices are becoming less relevant in the packet-based signalling. Similarly, most users will want to benefit from the infrastructure that is laid down in a home network, such as the establishment of a multi-access-point WiFi network with a HomePlug-based backbone to cover a difficult house.

The Ekahau setup could be scaled back to allow an alarm installer or broadband Internet provider to sell a similar system in to the home. Any moveable sensor like a medical-alert pendant could make use of the existing WiFi network for transferring its data to the monitoring facility. It could then lead to e-mail and / or text (SMS) messaging if the device is triggered. Similarly, the unit could be used to deal with “wandering” behaviour that can be part of dementia-related illnesses by alerting if the person goes out of range of the WiFi network. As well, such systems could support local monitoring through the use of a local server device, thus providing their output through a Web page, platform-specific “widget” or desktop application.

This setup may appeal to broadband providers who want to gain more “average revenue per unit” by reselling basic security services as part of their package. It could also be a way of achieving a legitimate upgrade path for currently-deployed building security systems, especially in the context of the “switched-on” Internet-enabled home.

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Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed Transfer – What does this mean?

Bluetooth Special Interest Group press release

WiFi Planet article on Bluetooth 3.0

My Comments

Bluetooth has hit the “big 3” by introducing a high-throughput version of its wireless personal network specification. This same technology used for sending pictures or phone-number data between mobile phones in the same space or streaming sound between mobile phones and car handsfree kits can do such things as wirelessly transferring one’s music library between a laptop computer and an MP3 player or “dumping” the contents of a digital camera to a computer.

It primarily allows data streams conforming to the Bluetooth protocols to be transmitted over the 802.11b/g WiFi network just by using the media-transfer levels of that specification. This takes advantage of the fact that a lot of the smartphones and the laptop computers have Bluetooth and WiFi wireless technology built in to them; and that premium MP3 players like the Apple iPod Touch will offer WiFi and Bluetooth on the same device. This is a situation that will become more common as chip manufacturers develop “all-in-one” WiFi / Bluetooth radio chipsets. For applications requiring a small data stream, the device just engages a single Bluetooth transceiver with the regular Bluetooth stack, which can save on battery power.

Intel had developed “My WiFi” which is a competing standard for a personal area network based on the WiFi technology with the devices using the full list of protocols and standards applicable to regular LAN applications. The idea was to have the laptop “split” its wireless-network ability into a client for a WiFi LAN and a very-low-power access point for a WiFi LAN which is the personal area network. At the moment, this technology is limited to laptops based on the Centrino 2 platform and requires that the laptop, being a general-purpose computer, becomes a “hub” device for the personal area network. But what could happen could be that other WiFi chipset vendors would license this technology and implement it into their designs, which could extend it towards other applications.

This would lead to a highly-competitive space for technologies that connect the wireless personal area network together, especially if the primary device of the network is a laptop computer. It could also incite manufacturers of devices like digital still and video cameras to include WiFi and Bluetooth in to these devices.

Who knows what the future will hold for the wireless personal area network.

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WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph


WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph

What has WiFi been about especially for the home IT environment?

One major way WiFi has benefited the home IT environment is the increased sale of laptop computers (,24897,24851973-15306,00.html?referrer=email) over desktop computers. This typically would manifest in a home computing environment consisting of one or more laptop computers that have built-in WiFi wireless ability. The network – Internet “edge” device in this environment would be a wireless router that brings the Internet to these laptops via WiFi wireless. In some countries, the standard provider-supplied “customer premises equipment” for Internet service would be equipped with WiFi wireless capability.

Increasingly, nearly every printer manufacturer is running at least one residential-tier multi-function printer equipped with network ability, typically with WiFi network access. This means that the printer can be located in one position wherever the user desires and print documents from their laptop. There also is the increasing number of “Internet radios” or “i-Radios” that use WiFi to bring Internet radio streams to the speakers in these sets.

This may not be strictly a home-IT environment issue but the number of “hotspots” and “hotzones” that are part of public places is now increasing. These WiFi-based public networks are allowing for anywhere computing.

This has also caused most current-model mobile phones and PDA devices to be equipped with WiFi wireless thus allowing for cost-effective portable Web browsing and, increasingly, DLNA-driven music management and playback. These phones will eventually lead to WiFi being another mobile-telephone network usually in the form of fixed-mobile communications for example.

There have been attempts to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” by limiting WiFi or making it unpopular. It has mainly been based on the “electromagnetic waves being dangerous to people” theory being propagated as part of junk science, but real scientific tests have proven that the RF emissions yielded by typical WiFi and Bluetooth setups none or very little detrimental effect on people.

Even without this article, I would certainly agree that WiFi has become an important computer technology for all IT scenarios.

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802.11r – the new wireless-networking standard

In August-September 2008, there has been a fair bit of talk in the IT press about the new IEEE 802.11r standard for wireless networks. It isn’t a new waveband or transmission standard for these networks.

Instead it is an improved method of handling the “handover” procedure when a wireless-network client moves between two access points in a multi-access-point network. The idea behind this is to make the handover process hard to notice if you are using a multimedia service which works with streamed audio or video like VoIP or audio / video streaming. The same feature will also benefit multi-machine multi-player gaming such as Internet-hosted online gaming because everything that is part of the game is kept in sync, thus making sure that you can “frag” the opponent there and then. With current technology, if you move between different access points while using a multimedia service, you will notice an obvious “glitch” because of the requirement to re-associate with the network when in the new access point’s area.

The improvement is based on a “work-ahead” procedure where the client will log in with access points of the same “extended service set” while utilising the current access point. Then it will “switch over” to whichever access point has the best signal, thus avoiding unnecessary glitches.

The main issue with this technology, like any new standard being introduced, is how it can work with existing networks and equipment. As well, there is the issue of an upgrade path for existing equipment. In the first situation, would 802.11r-based clients be able to achieve the fast handover with wireless networks that work with current technology and would 802.11r-based access points work with existing WiFi clients. This also includes wireless networks where some access points may be 802.11r-enabled and some may be on existing technology. This would typify operating environments where a gradual roll-out is implemented because there will be an initial price premium for newer equipment being equipped with 802.11r and it would still wouldn’t be cost-effective to replace all access points at the same time. This brings me to what will be discussed in the next paragraph regarding existing equipment.

The second situation would determine what is needed to be done to an existing network to roll out the new technology. Could this be achieved through a firmware or software upgrade on existing equipment or would it require totally-new equipment to be deployed? This issue would be very pertinent when it comes to small wireless networks where one of the access points is built in to a wireless router that is on the network-Internet edge. It also would encompass most outdoor access points and, of course, those HomePlug-based wireless access points like the Netcomm NP-290W / Solwise PL-85PEW which I have mentioned about in this blog.

This issue may not be exposed in the small-network space because the typical small wireless network is based around only one access point — the one built in to the router at the network’s “edge”. But as I have mentioned in this blog about setting up multi-access-point wireless networks which have an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone as a way of extending the wireless network or conquering wireless-network reception difficulties, the issue of the 802.11r “fast-handover” technology will have to be exposed to this class of network. This is important if the network is being used for VoIP, streamed IP-based multimedia or online-gaming “frag-fests”.

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