LONDON--For the past couple of years, everyone has assumed that the next big technological thing would be wireless data services. WAP, the wireless application protocol put together by a huge group of companies, permits Web surfing over mobile phones. It's going to really come into its own, the firms insist, when third-generation, high-speed mobile telephony rolls out, perhaps as soon as year's end. Simultaneously, Bluetooth, a standard developed by a different huge set of companies, is expected to enable all kinds of personal networking--for instance, writing with a pen that can later transmit the data to your PC.
Yet neither WAP nor Bluetooth has taken over the world; in fact, there's a chance that neither will, considering the rise of a dark-horse challenger: the cryptically named 802.11b. The standard, developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), was embraced first by Apple Computer in 1999, in the form of its AirPort base station. The "b" indicates that this second version of 802.11, originally ratified in 1997, is faster than the first: 802.11b transmits data at up to 11 megabits per second. It is, in other words, wireless broadband, and it operates in a part of the spectrum (roughly, near microwaves) that, unlike third-generation, or 3G, mobile telephony, requires no license.
This article was originally published with the title Wireless Wonder.