Wireless and Mobile Networks

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Wireless and Mobile Networks

A wireless network is a network that uses wireless instead of wired technology. A mobile network (also called a “cellular network”) is a network operating on a radio frequency (RF), consisting of radio cells, each served by a fixed transmitter, known as a “cell site” or “base station” (discussed later in this chapter). These cells are used to provide radio coverage over a wider area. According to Forrester, smartphones will make up 52 percent of all web traffic globally in 2019. This is essential for e-commerce (discussed in Chapter 8) as a growing number of customers are buying products using their smartphones.

Wireless and mobile networks have the advantages of mobility, flexibility, ease of installation, and low cost. These systems are particularly effective when no infrastructure (such as communication lines or established wired networks) is in place, which is common in many developing nations and in old buildings that do not have the necessary wiring for a network. Drawbacks of mobile and wireless networks include the following:

Limited throughput—Throughput is similar to bandwidth. It is the amount of data transferred or processed in a specified time, usually one second. Unlike the other disadvantages of wireless, throughput is expected to become a bigger problem in the future.

Limited range—The distance a signal can travel without losing strength is more limited in mobile and wireless networks. For example, a Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) network can have a range of 120 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors. Chapter 14 covers range specifications for mobile and wireless networks in more detail.

In-building penetration problems—Wireless signals might not be able to pass through certain building materials or might have difficulty passing through walls.

Vulnerability to frequency noise—Interference from other signals, usually called “noise,” can cause transmission problems. Common sources of noise include thunderstorms and lightning, which create radio waves (the same waves used by wireless networks), transformers, high-voltage cables, and fluorescent lights.

Security—Wireless network traffic can be captured with sniffers. (Security is discussed in more detail later in this chapter.)

There are various definitions of mobile and wireless computing. Mobile computing might simply mean using a laptop away from the office or using a modem to access the corporate network from a client’s office. Neither activity requires wireless technology. Wireless LANs usually refer to proprietary LANs, meaning they use a certain vendor’s specifications, such as Apple Computer’s LAN protocol for linking Macintosh devices. The term wireless LAN is also used to describe any wireless network. Wireless LANs have the same characteristics as wired LANs, except they use wireless media, such as infrared (IR) light or RF.

Exhibit 6.10 shows a wireless notebook connecting to a wired LAN. The transceiver on the laptop establishes radio contact with the wired LAN (although the figure does not show the entire wired network). The transceiver/receiver can be built in, attached to the notebook, mounted on a wall, or placed on a desk next to the notebook.

Exhibit 6.10
A Wireless Notebook Connecting to a Wired LAN

Wireless networks have many advantages. For example, healthcare workers who use handheld, notebook computers or tablets (such as the iPad) with wireless capabilities are able to get patient information quickly. Instead of writing notes on paper regarding the patient’s condition, then transcribing the notes into an electronic form, they can enter information directly into the handheld devices. Because the information can be sent to and saved on a centralized database, it is available to other workers instantly. In addition, entering notes directly prevents errors that are common during the transcription process, which improves the quality of information. The information box “Mobile Computing and Mobile Apps” discusses mobile apps, which have further enhanced the popularity of mobile computing.

Mobile Computing and Mobile Apps

Mobile computing has become a familiar term because of the popularity of mobile apps. An app is designed to perform a specific task and can run on mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and other handheld devices. Today, there is an app available for just about any task or application that has a general audience, including such areas as games, social media, retail, banking, finance, and medicine. Many of the apps are free; some must be purchased.

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Apple started its App Store in 2008 and Google Play was launched in 2012. As of September 2017, there were more than 3.3 million apps for Android devices and more than 3.1 million apps for iOS devices. As of August 2017, the top 10 most popular mobile apps in America were: Facebook, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, Google Search, Google Maps, Instagram, Snapchat, Google Play, Gmail, and Pandora.

Here are some examples of popular apps in use:

EPOCRATES (Epocrates Inc.)—Gives doctors basic information about drugs, the right dosing for adults and children, and warnings about harmful interactions.

ALIVECOR (AliveCor Inc.)—Produces electrocardiograms when patients place their fingers over the monitor’s sensors.

Google Shopper—Provides information such as prices, reviews, and videos for millions of products.

RBS (Citizens Bank)—Performs various online banking tasks.

Spotify—Streams millions of songs from the Internet.

A strategy used by some companies called BYOD (bring your own device) has further enhanced the popularity of mobile and wireless networks. This strategy allows employees of an organization to use their own computers, tablets, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes. Advantages of this strategy include cost savings, increased flexibility, increased productivity, and its attractiveness for some job seekers. Disadvantages include privacy and security issues related to organization’s information resources.

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