HIPERLAN Gaining Mindshare

With the emergence of more powerful wireless LAN-based technologies, enterprise IT departments may one day be able to provide near seamless access to IS resources.

At present, an established wireless networking technology with a European pedigree, dubbed HIPERLAN/1, could provide IT managers with the ability to establish ad hoc networking services and enforce quality of service guarantees at speeds of 23.5 Mbs -- that is if U.S. vendors choose to adopt it.

In the United States, most wireless LAN development has centered around Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). Part of IEEE standard 802.11, DSSS broadcasts over radio waves at 2.4 GHz and is supported by companies such as 3Com Corp. (www.3com.com) and Lucent Technologies (www.lucent.com) in their wireless LAN-based solutions. But because of reliability problems with its top-end throughput of 11 Mbs, DSSS is limited to a bandwidth of 2 Mbs, a far cry from the 10 Mbs or 100 Mbs performance capacities found in many enterprises.

From across the pond comes an alternative solution -- High Performance Radio LAN (HIPERLAN) -- that is capable of supporting performance throughputs significantly higher than with DSSS. A standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and approved in 1996, HIPERLAN/1 uses a 5-GHz frequency range and reliably supports a data rate of 23.5 Mbs over distances of up to 50 meters. The ETSI is developing a number of other spread-spectrum wireless technologies under a project titled the Broadband Radio Access Network (BRAN), which includes a proposal for a technology called HIPERLink. HIPERLink will operate at 17 GHz and supports data rates of 155 Mbs.

That’s in the future. For the moment, HIPERLAN/1 is here and has been proven to work. But thus far the technology has seen no significant adoption among U.S. vendors. The Federal Communications Commission allocated a larger spectrum -- dubbed the National Information Infrastructure band and consisting of three different frequency ranges between 5.1 GHz and 5.8 GHz -- for the development of similar applications here. The lack of availability of a 5-GHz operating range, therefore, cannot be used as an excuse.

Why then has HIPERLAN/1 languished on this side of the Atlantic, while it has been reliably deployed and extensively leveraged in Europe? According to Sam Alunni, president of Sterling Research, many European standards traditionally have problems translating successfully to U.S. environments. In many cases, separate technologies are adopted on each side of the Atlantic, as in the case of the U.S.’s NTSC and Europe’s PAL television broadcasting standards. When one standard is adopted, most times, Alunni says, it is a one-way street: U.S. technologies are embraced and eventually adopted in Europe. "Historically, I can’t think of a lot of things that have done the converse, in terms of crossing the Atlantic and being adopted here," Alunni says.

One U.S.-based company trying to buck the trend is Proxim Inc. (www.proxim.com), a developer of wireless LAN solutions for Windows CE and other platforms. Proxim traditionally used 2.4 GHz technology in its RangeLAN series of products, but the company plans to unveil in early 2000 a series of wireless LAN solutions -- named RangeLAN5 -- that support HIPERLAN/1 rather than the IEEE’s not-yet-approved 5-GHz standard.

Brian Button, vice president of sales and marketing at Proxim, believes the HIPERLAN/1 standard makes more sense than waiting for the still unapproved IEEE Wireless LAN standards.

"HIPERLAN was designed from the ground up for high-speed, high-capacity wireless networking with true multimedia support," Button explains. "In addition, it is the only standard that is certifiable internationally that takes advantage of the large capacity of the 5 gigahertz band."

Proxim’s adoption of the HIPERLAN/1 standard will allow it to develop unified solutions for both the U.S. and European marketplaces.

While HIPERLAN/1 has been standardized for about three years now, the IEEE’s 5-GHz standard -- which will provide performance commensurable with that of HIPERLAN/1 -- is not expected to be completed until mid-2000, and products based on this standard will not be certifiable for sale in Europe.

Other U.S. vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. -- both of whom are developer members of the new HIPERLAN Alliance (www.hiperlan.com) -- have shown interest in HIPERLAN/1.