Imagine selecting a DVD from a player in your basement and being able to watch it in your bedroom or being able to transmit a high definition video signal from the satellite receiver in your living room to a high-def TV in the basement all without wires.

In the past, wireless technology hasn’t been able to handle the bandwidth or networking speeds necessary to achieve this, but we now find ourselves on the brink of new technology that can handle video and data five-times faster than older methods.

Enter 802.11a, a new wireless technology that operates in the 5 gigahertz spectrum supporting higher speeds and virtually eliminates interference from devices operating at 2.4 gigahertz, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Older wireless protocols, such as those based on 802.11b and HomeRF wireless standards are more prone to this type of interference. And neither really provide the speed or bandwidth necessary to handle high-quality video.

The 802.11b standard, which is now being used in most wireless home computer networks, operates at speeds up to 11 Mbps and is more than adequate to handle DVD-quality transmissions or the movement of data or MP3-quality music from one computer to another. But high-quality video and high definition transmissions require a minimum of 15-to-19 Mbps.

HomeRF’s SWAP protocol can only handle transmissions at 1.6 mbps, although it’s anticipated that it will be able to handle 10 Mbps by the end of the year. The newer, and at this point more expensive, 802.11a standard is able to transmit data at speeds up to 54 Mbps, which is more than adequate for today’s video and audio technologies. In fact, according to a recent report from the Gartner Group, Inc., it has “enough capacity to simultaneously support two streams of standard television content, data traffic among multiple PCs in the home and an HDTV stream”.

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New chipsets based on this technology are being developed by Atheros and Radiata and will soon be seen in wireless networking systems from companies such as Actiontec Electronics. But plans for these chips go much further than that. Plans are for these chipsets to be embedded in home theater receivers, DVD players, cable and satellite boxes, and possibly home appliances. But there are a few obstacles that they have to overcome before it can become a reality.

The technology was approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers more than a year ago, but distance limitations and high costs have basically kept it on the back burner, according to the Gartner report, which was issued in March 2001. At that time, lower production volumes resulted in higher prices for the chipsets, plus the 802.11a chipsets are more expensive to manufacture due to higher prices for the materials. But expect the costs to decrease as they become more prevalent and the demand for them increases.

According to the Gartner report, the distance these systems were able to transmit data can be “significantly shorter” than the slower systems. Tests at that time showed a significant reduction as the data rate increases … 180 feet indoors at 6 Mbps compared with 45 feet indoors at 54 Mbps. Devices based on the 802.11b standard have a maximum speed of 11 Mbps at shorter distances.

Chips (or radios) operating in the 5 GHz range also tend to consume more power than those operating at 2.4 GHz. This, according to Gartner, is due to their higher speeds. Systems also require larger power supplies to maintain signal strength at that level.

Many of these problems have been overcome as products based on 802.11a technology are developed. Expect to see the first in a long line of these beginning with wireless home networking systems by the end of this year.