Wired and wireless worlds to reunite soon?

Pop quiz: Which came first, the wired LAN or the wireless LAN? Today, we tend to think of wireless LANs and wireless connections to the Internet as exotic, new applications, but a short visit to the archives shows that isn’t true.

In 1970, researchers at the University of Hawaii, led by Norman Abramson, demonstrated the first wireless LAN a bi-directional, packet-switched radio network connecting computers throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The network, called Alohanet, was connected to Arpanet (the precursor to the Internet) in 1972.

Alohanet also attracted the attention of Xerox PARC researcher Bob Metcalfe, who was inspired to use some of the protocols when he developed the first experimental Ethernet LAN in late 1972.

So the wireless LAN not only predates the wired LAN (OK, just barely), but wireless connections to the Internet also qualify as ancient history. Of course, Ethernet LANs became a huge success, and wireless LANs lagged far behind; they’re just now gaining widespread acceptance in corporate America.

My point is that, like two siblings separated at birth, the wireless and wired worlds are headed for a reunion after many years apart. While this all sounds very happy, the typical IT department confronts huge challenges in making it work. Wireless applications developers have only a hodgepodge of tools and no standards to guide them. Corporate secrets can be plucked out of the air. Wireless skills are scarce. And you never seem to get the “up to” speeds that are touted in the press releases.


Betts is director of Computerworld (U.S.)’s Knowledge Centers. He can be reached at mitch_betts@computerworld.com.