Monday, June 4, 2007

Tireless Wireless

By: Courtney David Mills
IPA Technology Director and Litigation Paralegal at Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, P.C.


Whenever I think about wireless technology, I cannot help but think about what is around the corner, even twenty years from now. If you stop and think about it, twenty years ago, computers were in their infancy and the idea of wireless technology was mostly relegated to telephones and remote controls. Although wireless technology has definitely come of age, it is important to note that all wireless technology is not created equal. This article will discuss some different standards or types of wireless technology and also discuss some uses for same. I will start with Bluetooth technology since it has the hippest name.

Bluetooth Technology:

Bluetooth was named after a late 900s king, Harald Bluetooth King of Denmark and Norway. He is known for his unification of previously warring tribes from Denmark and Norway. Bluetooth likewise was intended to unify different technologies, such as computers and mobile phones. The Bluetooth logo merges the Nordic runes analogous to the modern Latin H and B: (haglaz) and (berkanan) forming a bind rune. Bluetooth technology seems confuse a lot of consumers. I think the primary reasons for the confusion are that its name has no descriptive qualities to it other than the fact that some Bluetooth devices have blue lights on them. The other source of the confusion stems from the fact that the Bluetooth technology is very versatile and can be found in laptops, desktops, key boards, mice, headphones, microphones, headsets, game controllers, printers, cell phones, digital cameras, etc. Bluetooth technology is essentially a wireless technology that is marked by low power consumption and short range between the devices. It allows two devices to connect wirelessly and communicate with each other. This process is called “pairing”. If your laptop has a built-in or external Bluetooth connection device, you can connect to your cell phone (which can be across the room in your jacket or purse) and you can access the internet. You can also connect your laptop to you digital camera to transfer digital pictures (wirelessly), while you listen to music on your wireless headphones. Once the pictures are transferred, you can print them wirelessly on your Bluetooth enabled printer that is located in an upstairs office. Some newer cars even have the option of integrated Bluetooth technology which automatically detects your cell phone when you enter the vehicle and allows you to make and receive phone calls (hands free) and even route the audio of your phone through the car speakers.

Wi-Fi:

Wi-Fi is actually a brand name originally trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade organization that tests and certifies wireless technology. Wi-Fi refers to the technology of Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) which run on the 802.11 frequency. There are two primary types of WLANs. The first is a computer to computer network or “ad-hoc” network. This type of network allows two or more computers to connect to each other (wirelessly), most often to share files or documents. Ad-hoc networks are not commonly used, but would be extremely useful for a trial team who has a single set of electronic documents that need to be shared amongst the group. You could set-up a small WLAN so that different members of the trial team could all access the files (that are stored on just one person’s computer) in a war room setting. Wi-Fi networks that allow you access to the internet are often referred to as “hot spots” or “access points”. Some are free (i.e. Panera Bread, Shapiro’s Deli, Qdoba, and Au Bon Pain), and some are not (i.e. Starbucks, and Border’s Books). Most hot spots have a relatively short range of 20 – 100 feet (depending on thickness of walls and barriers), but other more powerful transmitters can project several hundred feet. Some businesses and law firms have some sort WLAN in place, but most are hesitant to adopt this technology due to the inherent security concerns present with any sort of wireless technology. In order to connect to the internet at a hot spot, your device (either laptop computer or smartphone) must have either an internal or external wireless card. Most newer laptops have built-in wireless cards and Bluetooth cards. If your laptop does not have a wireless card, you can purchase a card for $20-$60. It is also important to note that there are different levels of wireless technology (802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n). The primary difference between each of the above technologies is range and data capacity. 802.11g is considered the current standard and 802.11n is considered the latest and greatest. The primary area of confusion that I hear from attorneys is that they seem to believe that just because they have a laptop and wireless card, they believe they can access the internet. This is not the case. Unless you have wireless card from your cell phone company (or have the ability to use your cell phone as a modem), you have to be within range of a hotspot or be in a city that has city-wide wireless (referred to Municipal Fi, or Mu-Fi). Mu-Fi is a world-wide movement towards having municipalities offer wide-range wireless networks that cover entire towns and cities. Beech Grove, Indiana is the latest Indiana city to go wireless. Once Beech Grove’s plan is up and running, you can take your laptop anywhere in the city and have instant internet access. You can be in the park, or at your child’s baseball practice. When I told this to one of the attorneys that I work with, he jokingly commented that I should find a court reporter in Beech Grove and start scheduling his depositions there. That way he could at least check his email during a particularly boring deposition. At least, I think he was kidding.

In summary, wireless connectivity holds the key to the future. If you listen to the people like Bill Gates or Paul Allen who are designing the technology of the future, you will quickly discover that they envision a world where location is irrelevant and everything is connected (without the wires). There is no real doubt that in the future, nearly every city will be wireless. Besides the obvious factor of initial investment in infrastructure, the major roadblock to implementing such plans has been lobbying pressure from the telcos that currently provide broad-band internet access. However, cities have realized that Mu-Fi is a great perk to draw-in companies and residents. It also offers a lot of benefits to public safety officials and the ability to better integrate emergency services. The question of Mu-Fi coming to a city near you is no longer if, but when.

Blog of the Month:

The Estrin Report: This blog is perhaps the number one paralegal blog in the country. It is updated several times every day (even on the weekend) and always has interesting stories and links connected to the paralegal profession. It is one of the very few blogs that I check every morning and evening. I also like the self-identifying description, “Created for professional paralegals – not of a certain level, specialty or firm – but of a particular attitude.
http://estrinlegaled.typepad.com/my_weblog/

Website of the Month:

Muni Wireless – The Voice of Public Broadband: This is a great resource for information on Mu-Fi projects in Indiana and across the country.
http://www.muniwireless.com/

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