There was something for everyone at the Second IEEE Workshop on Wireless LANS, held at WPI on October 24 and 25. It had been five years since the last workshop, and the wireless LAN industry has in the interim developed a prominent position in the pantheon of wireless communications. More than eighty participants from eight different countries that included, six president/CEO of the companies, experts in hardware and radio design, networking, software, marketing, and applications, gathered to discuss the latest with the key government and industry players. The two-day event was packed with up-to-the-minute developments, and included tutorial lectures, presentations on a wide variety of topics, panel discussions, product demonstrations, technical exhibits, and a tour of Wireless LAN Research Labs (WLRL) and the NSF/WPI wireless LAN testbed, with a look at the leading-edge work being performed there by WPI faculty, students, and corporate and industry partners. A highlight of the proceedings was the opportunity to use notebook computers equipped with wireless LANs in a "wireless classroom" experience. Using the wireless LAN system to access WPI's home page on the World Wide Web and the writing of the lecturers on the electronic board, participants could download and view presentations in real time, a glimpse of the near future where notebooks computers and wireless LANs give users the ability access information "anytime, anywhere" at speeds comparable to those available to users of traditional wired LANs. There was even a demo of wireless multimedia, involving videoconferencing and document sharing.
The first day of the workshop was devoted to a series of tutorial presentations, covering current trends, antenna design, security issues, available and future products, the emerging (and, as participants were to see, controversial) IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard, the high-performance European HIPERLAN system, and a look at the future of high-performance systems in the US (known as SUPERNet). The rest of the first day was devoted to a tour of Wireless LAN Research Labs and the NSF/WPI wireless LAN testbed and discussions involving the projects underway there, as well as visits to the exhibits. Exhibitors included Aironet (a leading wireless LAN vendor and a member of WLRL), ALTA Group (showing the latest in radio-system design tools), Cushcraft (a major vendor of antennas and WLRL member), Digital Equipment Corp. (WLRL member and wireless-LAN systems supplier), Harris Semiconductor (WLRL member showing their new PRISM chip set), Jolt Ltd. (showing their new 155 Mbps LED-based infrared building-to-building link), the Wireless LAN Alliance, an educational and trade association representing many wireless-LAN equipment vendors, and Alta Group od Cadence, demonstrating their SPW and BONeS software for design and simulation of wireless networks.
Day two opened with a welcome from Dr. Edward Parrish, the President of WPI and featured Dr. Anton Dahbura's presentation on research underway at DEC's Cambridge (MA) labs on wireless networking and mobile computing devices (the MoCCA project), and a presentation by Dr. Thomas Stanley, Chief Engineer of the US Federal Communications Commission. Dr. Stanley's eagerly-awaited talk discussed changes in regulation, a particularly important topic because wireless LANs benefit from the greater availability of radio spectrum, which is managed by the FCC. An executive panel, featuring senior executives of the three largest wireless LAN vendors and the designer of the WaveLAN, gave participants the opportunity to hear what these industry leaders have in mind for the near future and beyond. Presentations on developments in Europe and Japan contributed to the international flavor of the event.
Other interesting developments discussed at the Workshop were BBN Corp's "BodyLAN", a very- low-power system designed for "wearable" use, wireless ATM transmission using infrared technology, and challenges to the transition to very-high-speed systems. A panel on interoperability showed that wireless LANs can generate as much controversy as any emerging technology, with some panelists convinced that the (still-in-progress) 802.11 standard is "just what the industry needs" to build the installed base with network users, and others blaming the lateness and complexity of the proposed standard for the slow growth of the wireless LAN market. The day concluded with a look at major applications for wireless LAN systems (including education, health care, and financial systems), and a detailed look at the performance monitoring and system- deployment tools now under development at WLRL.
After two full days of "full-contact wireless" there were, perhaps, more outstanding questions than many of the participants arrived with. But the interaction and depth so evident at the Workshop made the event a valuable experience for everyone involved. "We're looking forward to wireless LANs being a commonplace as wired LANs", said Dr. Kaveh Pahlavan, WPI Professor and Workshop organizer. "The workshop was a big step in that direction".