Wi-fi 5 makes stylish Euro debut

London Fashion Week has given a European debut to a leading-edge wireless networking technology from the US.

While it may not have attracted quite as much attention this week as the clothes and the supermodels, the first full-scale use of an 802.11a wireless local area network has been claimed as a coup by the event’s organisers.

The protocol is not yet licensed for commercial use in the UK, and a special seven-day permit had to be obtained from the Radiocommunications Agency before the pilot scheme could proceed.

High-quality images

The 802.11a was used to broadcast real-time high-quality images from the catwalks to personal digital assistants and laptops used by visitors around the event’s venues.This LAN is a more advanced version of 802.11b, a protocol already widely used in the US where it is known as wi-fi. So-called ‘hotspots’ are common in coffee bars and hotel lobbies, where they allow users to log on to the internet without the need for a wire connection.

The 802.11a variant – already dubbed Wi-Fi5 because it operates in the 5GHz wireless frequency – offers the potential for high-quality video streaming and other advanced mobile data transfer. It is more flexible than the earlier version and can handle different formats such as video, audio and text at the same time.

The Fashion Week experiment was a result of collaboration between NMI – which markets the event – processing giant Intel and OpenMobile, a developer of wireless application technology.

Robust network

Cliff Lunt, head of interactive services at NMI, said the network – which also incorporated some 802.11b technology – had proved ‘remarkably robust’.

As well as handling transmission of data to laptops and PDAs, it serviced two 42in display screens and a number of touch-screen kiosks scattered around the event.’We were pleased with the result,’ said Lunt. ‘Wireless is still very much in its infancy, but this was probably one of the highest-profile demonstrations yet of what is possible.’

Lunt claimed the London showcase should serve as a wake-up call to European regulators, who are currently agonising over how to accommodate the growth of fast-emerging wireless LAN technologies such as wi-fi.

‘They need to get the legislative framework sorted out, because at the moment thetechnology is running much faster than the authorities,’ said Lunt.

European governments are anxious about several issues raised by widespread commercial use of wireless LANs, including the security of the networksand possible interference with sensitive communications users such as the military and airports.

But Lunt said the consequences of inhibiting the roll-out of wireless networks would be to severely hamper the government’s much-quoted ambition of creating a networked society.

‘It would be the equivalent of going back to the days of someone walking in front of every car with a red flag – and then wondering why things aren’t getting faster,’ he claimed.