Debate on Wi-Fi Networks

Introduction

Wi-Fi is a registered trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance for certified products based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. It is also called Wireless LAN (WLAN) or Wi-Fi. It is supported by most computer systems be it be laptops or personal computers. Most of the operating systems like Linux or Windows are supported. It supports wide range of devices like gaming consoles, smart-phones, mobiles, printers are also supported. It uses single carrier direct carrier direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) technology and multi carrier Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM). (Qaimkhani & Hossain, 2008)

Wi-Fi also has a benefit for providing peer-to-peer network like that of Local Area Network (LAN), in which devices can be interconnected to each other or communicate among themselves. Normal wireless networking technology systems when came into existence, it came along with the burden of inability of interoperability, because of the different communication standards followed by each devices with each vendor. To interconnect these devices became more of a challenge. With the incoming of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi alliance created certification i.e. Wi-Fi- certified. It meant that all the devices marked Wi-Fi- certified followed same communication protocol and standards, which made it simpler for devices to interoperate with each other regardless of the vendor manufacturer. Now a days lot of consumer devises use Wi-Fi to talk among them selves or connect to internet via Wi-Fi hotspot or transfer images with cameras or share videos or mp3 songs among themselves. (Wei, 2006)

Wi-Fi is now widely spread along a wide area of business and industrial sites as well as applications. Wi-Fi makes it easier for voice based applications or voice over internet through VOIP or WVOIP (Wireless Voice over Internet Protocol). Wi-Fi allows LAN to operate without cables, thus reducing cost and ease of installation. Also it can be setup where setting cables will be hazardous or not feasible. Now almost all laptops are Wi-Fi enabled as it is becoming popular and becoming cheap to implement. Though there are limitations of this technology. Problematic area being Spectral assignments or bandwidth and frequency band provided. There are limitations of bands provided by the countries like US, Japan or European Countries. And there are also restrictions on Equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP), this puts limitations on number of access points and power of access points. Wi-Fi also has limited range. A normal Wi-Fi with stock antenna has a range of about 32 meters indoor and 95 meters outdoors, though line of sight (LOS) antennas can be used for larger ranges up to several kilometres. Maximum power transmitted is limited the local regulation for electronic radiation. This limitation puts the scale of application to be used limited to use such as barcode readers at check-out or retail stands. Even though it is better than technologies like Bluetooth as its range is roughly 10 meters.

Wi-Fi provides many facilities, like provide access to internet devices like personal computer, game console, mobile phone, mp3 players or PDA, or devices with Wi-Fi capability. It can do so with in the range of the wireless network. These devices can even be remotely controlled or monitored though software applications. It can provide internet via one or more access points in a wide area called hotspots. Through the mesh of access points it can provide access to internet from a small building to few square kilometres. Other than uses in offices of for personal use in houses, there are public Wi-Fi hotspots which are made available by subscription or free of charge to attract customers like restaurants, hotels or airports. Some organizations in order to promote themselves or increase footfalls in a given area also provide free Wi-Fi in the area. Concept of Wi-Fi service as wide as a metropolitan city is also coming into existence, known as Metropolitan wide Wi-Fi. (Gayde & Wang, 2007)

Background of debate

Hotspots have the ability to bridge the digital divide for all kinds of communities large or small. It will encourage economic development and better streamline public services like health. And also create a sense of community. It is an easier alternative to traditional LAN with messy wires. It can connect all kinds of Wi-Fi enabled devices, even at places it difficult to send a LAN cable. For places like college or school campuses or enterprises it can be more productive, as there are less hassles for installation and service. And when properly configured, router configuring, it can improve security. (Lamb, 2009)

As already put forward that there are places where Wi-Fi- hotspots are free. Hotspots are places where internet access is provided via Wi-Fi over a wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). This is an internet sharing wireless zone. This can be extended to metropolitan reach. Hotspots come both flavours Free and Commercial. And both are growing. Wireless networks that span entire municipal areas are called MuniWireless. Hotspots are now found in all most, most public places like restaurants, fuel pumps, airports, hospital, departmental stores, coffee shops, college campus, train stations, underground metro stations, hospitals, hotels, business districts like SEZ’s and other places with high footfalls.

There mainly two types of Hotspots, free Wi-Fi Hotspots and commercial Hotspots. Free Hotspots has two mode of operation. The first is open public network which use a Wi-Fi router and no authentication credentials are needed to access it. Any one in the range is free to use it. This makes administration of the open network difficult. The other Free Hotspot is where it is closed public network. It uses Hotspot Management System which manages and provides the operators to authorize only users it is intended for. This helps in controlling of users to bandwidth usage to download limits. Commercial hotspot is where internet services are given at a price and not free. They can be used via a login screen where users are authenticated on basis of payment made earlier, walled garden where users are given to certain specific sites only etc. These service providers often provide internet for a monthly subscription or on commission basis where user are charged as percentage of end-user income. (Wei, 2006)

Increasingly many organizations are offering free services especially as free facility to their clients. Like hotels, airports and restaurant are offering hotspots to their guests for free. Increasing roaming services are also being provided so that the user can switch providers as they change location. But even with all these facilities there is one lingering question in everybody’s mind that this free service is actually helping us or it is creating health, security and other hazards. Spooky or unreliable connections, encryption security, there are many issues that need to be discussed. Another thing how free is free really. Giving free access is fine but how can companies or service provider can reliably monitor these connections, in this age of terrorism. (Trappeniers, 2008)

Against the Motion

Free hotspots are not a good idea, as many of the providers are finding out by pulling out of these ventures. Before going into details let us see what free Wi-Fi spot means. It is an unsecured connection as free hotspots need no authentication to access the internet, though VPN can be used for protection for transfer of sensitive information. Since it is free it does not guarantee a strong at all the places, so at some places it is weak and some places strong. It does not at all place give proper identification of network or the network name/SSID. Similar names of popular network can be used by ad hoc, peer-to-peer network, to trap user. There can be places where one may require purchasing login information to login, making it a pay service. Some of the locations have restricted access to few websites only, blocking all other websites, restricting ones productivity.

This is SafeSurf. As this is free service expectation for help or support is futile. I hope that is understood with free service. Further restrictions can be put in places by not allowing SMTP service, i.e. outgoing email through SMTP server may not be allowed at all the hotspots. For these very reasons one might be forced to use web based mail service. And subsequently bulk mailing through SMTP servers will be disrupted. Also these hotspots will give preference to users who have purchased the service, so it is quite possible as the slots fill up ones access might be severely restricted or connection withheld. Some of these free hotspots may give connectivity with in certain business centres and outside the places there might be limited connectivity. So Wi-Fi mobility is not guaranteed. All these for the price of free. (Gayde & Wang, 2007)

Let us go through security Hotspot in little detail. In hotspots, if the data is not used by use of user credentials then, it is possible that the data is sent as clear text, making way for data sniffers to sniff out user’s sensitive information sent on net. Even authentication is does prevent packet sniffers from reading data. Then there are cases of rouge or poisoned hotspots, which are set by identity thieves via ad-hoc networks, just to sniff data. In comparison with LAN with cables to gain access for intruders they need to gain physical access, but here in case of Wi-Fi they do even need to do so because of the nature of the medium and weak encryption standards. This open system is also prone to DNS spoofing attack. (Lamb, 2009)

Another problem of these mushrooming access points is that it can prevent access of users and get in the way with the use of other access points by others. This is caused by inter overlapping of channels in the 802.11g/b spectrum. It also results in decreased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between these access points. This is also called Wi-Fi pollution.

One more problem of these unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots is wardriving, where people moving around in the city looking for unsecured network, latest casualty where terror emails linked to bomb blasts in Ahmadabad, India were traced to American national Kenneth Haywood’s unsecured Wi-Fi network. Piggybacking is another problem, where intrusion is made on network without the owner’s knowledge. This is often unintentional as automatic detection of network by the operation system to find more powerful signal, gets unintentional cross over.

Other concerns with this enormous number of access points are the electronic radiation that is causes. Wi-fi systems typically use high frequency radio waves to transmit and receive data over large distances. There are heightened risk of cancer and sterility. There are scientific reports from Sweden which has linked Wi-Fi with impaired attentiveness, loss of short-term memory, chromosome damage and increased incidence of cancer. This is the reason being lot of schools are removing Wi-Fi hotspots. (Curran & Furey, 2008)

Response to opposing arguments

There are other who might think other wise that these Wi-Fi hotspots are actually good for business and mobility. They argue that it has ability to connect much different type of devices. Devices like laptop, Wi-Fi phone, or other portable Wi-Fi enabled devices to access the free wireless connection. People who argue that free hotspots are better say Wi-Fi availability is increasing day by day, which is an indication of its popularity. It will be increasingly used for remote monitoring and remote controlling of devices. These devices in future might include security systems and even tele-medicine.

Well but what about the security of these devices as free Wi-Fi is unauthenticated services and if at all generated encrypted packets, encryption is broken as in the case of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption. There are tools that make it so easy such as AirSnort or aircrack, which can effectively and quickly recover Wired Equivalent Privacy encryption keys. Then how about the Wi-Fi enabled security camera snooping and sniffing around citizens? Your peer to peer wireless connectivity via Free Wi-Fi has all the possibilities of getting compromised. Few of the common attacks are eavesdropping, Man-in-the-middle attacks and Denial of Service. In worst case scenario, a terrorist might use the service to send terror emails or country specific sensitive information, making it difficult to control and identify culprit, because of the nature of the network. (Lamb, 2009)

Some argue that it has been extremely useful for people who have limited or no access to internet. The prime question that needs to be asked is how free is free. One might argue that there are free services provided at hotels, restaurants and resorts. But don’t you think you are already paying for the services as you are paying for room rents or paying restaurant bills. In libraries where it is provided, access is restricted to fewer sites only; the freedom of internet vanishes into thin air. Now what about the help services with the service they are non existence. Most of these service providers the helpline is often not toll free. Since the service is free one cannot even complain. When using laptops these free Wi-Fi places do not provide wall plugs for use in emergency, so you have planned how much of the battery you want to use. Even at places, SMTP servers might not be supported again one has to use webmail. (Papagiannakis & Magnenat-Thalmann, 2008)

Relevance to Today’s managers

Business enterprises namely restaurants, say it helps their business, well it definitely does. The more customers are sitting on the tables or spending time in the store, the more money they are likely to spend in the store. Offering these services for customers with Wi-Fi enabled laptop or smart-phones, will definitely increase the number of footfalls and in turn will generate revenue and add more sales. Research firm Retail Systems Research (RSR), believes that any method or ploy that bring backs customers is good for business and in this front Wi-Fi is a definite YES. Companies like McDonald has been adding Wi-Fi to their outlet and the numbers are day by day increasing. This had not been the case if it is not bringing business. Surveys of respondents have found that most people who have experienced free Wi-Fi are more likely to be loyal to the place. Business Executives might say it is a way of increasing footfalls but, the burning question remains, which pays for it. Some of the companies are offering lost cost membership while other is adding clause to the term ‘free’. So the picture is not all that rosy there are even reports that few of the business have gone without Wi-Fi. (Papagiannakis & Magnenat-Thalmann, 2008)

Conclusion

It is clear that Free Wi-Fi hotspots have few advantages, like community like behaviour. But looking at security aspects, health aspects regarding radiation levels and other aspects of the free nature of this free service, it is not a reliable service if not desirable. Even though free one way or the other way it is us who is paying for it, as nothing comes free. Looking at the business point of view it does increase the number of footfalls. That’s the only good point about free Wi-Fi hotspots. Technologically an alternative technology WiMax can be suggested, which has longer operating range. Free Wi-Fi hotspots, are free of course, but with unlimited restrictions and use it at your own risk.

References

Curran, K., & Furey, E. (2008). Pinpointing users with location estimation techniques and Wi-Fi hotspot technology. International Journal of Network Management, 18(5), 395-408.

Gayde, R.S., & Wang, K. (2007). Aspects of network security for VoIP solutions using IMS core network and Wi-Fi access. Bell Labs Technical Journal, 12(3), 167-185.

Lamb, D. (2009). Interview on Wi-Fi. Cape Town. Web.

Papagiannakis, G., & Magnenat-Thalmann, N. (2008). A survey of mobile and wireless technologies for augmented reality systems. Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds, 19(1), 3-22.

Qaimkhani, I.A., & Hossain, E. (2008). Contention-free approaches for WiFi MAC design for VoIP services: performance analysis and comparison. Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing, 6(15), 1-5.

Trappeniers, L. (2008). Cross-media experiences: Ambient community interactions in the city. Bell Labs Technical Journal, 13(2), 5-11.

Wei, R. (2006). Wi-Fi Powered WLAN: When Built, Who Will Use It? Exploring Predictors of Wireless Internet Adoption in the Workplace. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(1), 155-175.