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A Fit for a Data-based Technology?

Mon, 05/02/2005 - 7:06am

Well, I needed something to pick on this month. Not that I want to necessarily pick on voice over Wi-Fi, but it does give me a launching point.

First it was VoIP, now it’s VoWi-Fi. If memory serves me correctly (and I’m told that is questionable), Wi-Fi was trying to make its niche in short-range data communications. It positioned itself as the ideal solution for wireless links in places like homes, small businesses, airports, retail chains, grocery stores and restaurants — and of course, Tarbucks.

Personally, I like this. Wi-Fi infrastructures have a lot to offer beyond computer to computer networking (but it’s still pure data, not packetized voice). Like being able to untether cashiers from the dreaded, "will someone from skyhooks please call extension 040? " Now, with Wi-Fi-enabled wireless scanners, cashiers can roam throughout the store. Instead of calling for a price check, they can march on over to the department that has the product they need a price for, scan one that DOES have a barcode sticker and meander back to their register, without skipping a beat (yeah, like that is really going to happen).

Here’s another Wi-Fi application I like: in grocery stores, the latest killer Wi-Fi application is known as "line busting. " Consider the following scenario: a slow-moving customer asks the checkout clerk a litany of questions and stalls the checkout lane. I’m next in line, the meter reader is coming down the road and I didn’t plug the meter. All I care about is getting rung up. And the longer the conversation lasts, the more stressed I and other customers become.

Wi-Fi to the rescue. With this particular iteration of Wi-Fi, another employee can quickly ease the tension by assisting the next person in line. Ideally, the employee can, and would, jump in and help out, wirelessly and without a register. This allows employees to conduct business securely within or outside stores (for example, during sidewalk sales or jammed checkouts). The system can checkout anywhere (so is this the end of checkout stations?). Ooh... sounds too good to be true.

OK, this all falls under the wireless data umbrella. And unless the Wi-Fi network gets overloaded with access points, this likely can work. So, on to VoWi-Fi.

VoIP is catching on. There are still a lot of chinks in the armor, but under the right conditions, it works as good as any other “telephone” type technology. VoWi-Fi is a bit of a different animal, however. It depends upon Wi-Fi networks… not nearly as ubiquitous as the Internet, yet.

VoWi-Fi is impressive on paper. It promises unlimited domestic calling, great international rates, unified messaging/voice mail, do not disturb, caller ID, anonymous call rejection, alternate numbers, multiple ring tones, multi-party conference calling, call hold, call forwarding, call waiting, simultaneous ring to multiple phone numbers and many more features.

Well, OK. But understanding a bit about how Wi-Fi works, I’m concerned that this application may tax both the bandwidth and access protocols (random address and backoff), and Wi-Fi is a work in progress (11a, b, d, e, i, g...zzz, and competing proposals). If you look at the hype of VoWi-Fi, it raises a red flag that could severely tax what are in some cases already marginal Wi-Fi nets.

So, my concern is that maybe, just maybe, not all platforms are there for the unbridled violation from any and all applications. As we learned from the early days of Bluetooth, while it may be technically possible, it may not always be rationally viable. I’ll keep my ear to the rail on this and revisit a bit down the road.

And on Another Note...

I want to let all of you know that there have been some changes on the staff of WDD. Some of you may already be aware of this, but our long-time Editor-in-Chief, Kim Potts, just gave birth to a future Technical Editor (about eight or so weeks ago, anyway). Congratulations Kim...I hear he’s already using Mathtype!

With this comes Kim’s decision to be a (mostly) stay-at-home mom. But she just couldn’t totally walk away from her other “baby” as she calls it. And rightfully so. Kim did an awesome job of running this magazine for nine years! So, Kim will be staying with us as Contributing Editor (whew, I was worried that I’d have to polish up my poorly developed editing skills).

Another change that has occurred on the WDD staff is that Andrea Joest, our talented Associate Editor, has been made Managing Editor. Andrea has shown a remarkable penchant for editorial work — she’s taken to it like a duck to water, and is a rising star within the company. Andrea has taken over the tireless job of day to day editorial operations.

And while I’m doing updates, I’ve also brought on Don Bishop, my former editorial director during my stint as technical editor for RF Design. Don is now a contributing editor for our publication.

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