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Don't Hang from the Rafters

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One of my first jobs in this industry had me doing pretty much anything my boss could think of. Sometimes that was a good thing, sometimes not. For example, there’s the time I found myself hanging upside down by my knees from the rafters in the attic of our building, stretching to reach a length of twinax that my boss was attempting to shove up to me through a wiring tunnel. This was part of our larger effort to rewire a couple of buildings and two huge warehouses. It’s not an experience I ever want to have again! If you’ve ever had a similar experience, you’ll appreciate some of the new wireless networking technologies that will be available in the very near future.

WaveStar OpticAir OLS

One of those new developments, designed by Bell Labs and marketed by Lucent Technologies, is called the WaveStar OpticAir Optical Line System (OLS). This new form of wireless technology could have you building your networks in ways you never thought possible. WaveStar OpticAir OLS (what a mouthful!) consists of a mailbox-sized unit that houses a diode laser, an amplifier, and a receiver that, potentially, can operate at speeds of up to 10 GB per second. That’s about 65 times more bandwidth than any other wireless technology currently on the market! Using a dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, WaveStar OpticAir OLS is able to transmit multiple streams of traffic (e.g., voice, video, and data) from each unit using unique waves of light. In fact, the product, which is expected in , can transmit up to 2.5 GB of data in both directions simultaneously—all on a single channel! Plans are in the works for an eight-channel unit to be available by late summer of 2000.

Of course, there are some caveats to this technology. You knew there might be, huh? WaveStar OpticAir uses what’s known as a line-of-sight system, meaning that the sending unit and the receiving unit must both be able to see one another. This means that things such as atmospheric disturbances (e.g., heavy fog) and the curvature of the earth can affect the quality and success of a transmission. At the time of this writing, field tests have taken place that have proven the technology to be effective at a distance of 2 kilometers. Plans are in the works to have a system by September 2000 that can achieve an effective distance of 5 kilometers. Don’t expect that kind of performance, though, if you happen to be one of the early users of this technology. Initially, the WaveStar OpticAir units will be limited to distances of around 1 kilometer or less.

Lucent has come up with some ways to overcome some of the line-of-sight obstacles that have presented themselves. To avoid problems with birds breaking the beam—a very real possibility in a light-beam-transmission network—Lucent uses a special laser lens to spread the beam transmission over a wider area. To compensate for high winds, which can cause the units to shake and bounce the beam out of alignment, Lucent has added a special tracking laser that feeds data back to alignment motors inside the unit. This keeps the beam on track even in uncommonly high winds.

What It Means for You

So what does this mean for your business? For one thing, the cost of implementing a wireless network that supports this level of bandwidth using the WaveStar OpticAir OLS technology should be considerably less than the cost of stringing fiber optic wire to achieve comparable performance. Simply install a couple of these units at opposite ends of the compound, and you’re all set.

Here’s another possibility. Say that you have the need to temporarily relocate some of your users. Perhaps you are on a university, and you’ve set up some semipermanent classrooms in buildings that are not part of the main campus. Using this new wireless technology, you purchase a WaveStar OpticAir OLS transmitter/receiver for the new, temporary facility. You attach it to the building’s existing internal wiring, and you’re immediately connected to the network half a mile across campus! There’s no need to call in the electricians or go before the board to get approval to spend millions of dollars for a temporary setup.

Or consider this: What would you do if your existing wired network went down? You could use a couple of WaveStar OpticAir OLS units to effect temporary repairs and have your users connected to your server again in no time.

Think About It

There are many wireless technologies available for your existing AS/400 and Microsoft Windows NT networks. However, none of them (that I’m aware of anyway) can match the bandwidth or flexibility available to you with WaveStar OpticAir OLS. Of course, if I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll be deluged with email from irate vendors demanding that I write about their nifty product, too! If you’re thinking about replacing all that old Category-5 wire in your office buildings with fiber optics, consider going wireless for at least part of your operation, instead. It may keep you from having to hang upside down from the rafters!

Shannon O'Donnell has held a variety of positions, most of them as a consultant, in dozens of industries. This breadth of experience gives him insight into multiple aspects of how the AS/400 is used in the real world. Shannon continues to work as a consultant. He is an IBM Certified Professional--AS/400 RPG Programmer and the author of an industry-leading certification test for RPG IV programmers available from ReviewNet.net.


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