Wi-Fi chips outpace nets

Wi-Fi-enabled computer chips are appearing in portable devices at a rate much faster than that of the infrastructure buildout needed to support them, potentially causing problems for enterprise IT staffs, according to a new report.

The findings, contained in a paper from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat/MDR entitled The Wi-Fi Field of Dreams: If you embed Wi-Fi, Infrastructure Will Come, indicates that 95 per cent of notebook PC unit shipments in 2005 will include embedded Wi-Fi as a standard feature.

According to Gemma Paulo, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR, the hefty increase in embedded Wi-Fi will force wireless infrastructure vendors to pick up the pace in releasing new technology.

What may end up happening within a lot of organizations, according to Paulo, is that employees at companies are going to be using these Wi-Fi-enabled machines but not have the infrastructure within corporate offices to support the technology.

Because the embedded Wi-Fi technology is included in Centrino, it is difficult to judge if all those who have access to the technology are actually using it. Doug Cooper, Intel Canada Ltd.’s country manager, said he is being told by wireless service providers that an increase in the number of people using the service is being seen.

“The job is not done, obviously, because we still have a quite a bit of work to do in terms of creating awareness with business mobile computer users,” Cooper said. “And our experience is that they are starting to get that message [and] that they use the service.”

George Atis, an IT and outsourcing lawyer and partner with McMillan Binch LLP in Toronto, has been testing Centrino in his laptop for the past year and said the flexibility of the technology makes Wi-Fi a liberating tool. He said Centrino identifies almost all of Toronto’s hot spots and allows him to access any of his business applications at high speed from any hot spot location.

Adding another wrinkle to the developing embedded Wi-Fi story, Paulo opined to Network World Canada that many laptop vendors are having Wi-Fi forced on them by Intel.

“They are bundling [embedded Wi-Fi] with their new processors, so if you are Dell and you want to sell Intel’s Pentium M processor, in order to call it Centrino you have to include the wireless portion of that mobile platform that Intel is offering,” said Paulo. “So it has kind of been force-fed to some of the PC [makers].”

Replied Cooper, “I think the comment is referencing the fact that we’ve gone and done a verification process around a certain collection of electronics, which is more than just CPUs. Traditionally, Intel has come out and said, ‘Here is the next-generation mobile CPU, here’s why you want it,’ et cetera.

“As we started to look forward at this converged computing device where the communication was an integral part of the value of the device, we realized that you couldn’t separate out the verification. You couldn’t rely on the industry to verify all of their pieces with our CPU and chipset.”

He added that Intel is trying to create a category that didn’t exist before with Centrino.

Paulo said that although it was the end-users who were looking for this technology a couple of years ago, it’s now “more of a full-fledged attack by Intel to really dominate the market.”

Although Cooper and Paulo agree that Wi-Fi technology is not yet a mission-critical application to organizations, Chris Matto, product manager at Toshiba of Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said that it would be difficult to find a corporate customer that wouldn’t want the technology already in the company’s system.

“Because if their company or organization isn’t going to go that way now, they sure as heck are going to go that way shortly,” Matto said.