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The New Wireless Standard

A new wireless standard is on the way, but when?

As the alphabet soup of Wi-Fi continues to stew, there is, as usual, a new standard on the way. Talk of 802.11n has been floating around for a while, but we're finally closing in on the ratification of the new standard. After a long bout of infighting between companies, the Enhanced Wireless Consortium emerged from the mire. Heavy-weights such as Apple, Cisco, Intel and Toshiba are all members of the group, which looks set to help push a standard through, possibly sometime this year.

Here's the buzz on 802.11n: Using MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) techniques, it should provide a minimum bandwidth of 100Mbps and possibly as much as 300Mbps. It should also feature signifi-cant gains in range and coverage quality.

All the confusion hasn't stopped Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers from coming out with pre-standard devices, usually described as pre-n or MIMO upgrades to 802.11g. Impatient entrepreneurs in need of more bandwidth and better wireless coverage should be aware of the potential trade-offs of pre-n adapters, though.

For starters, they're a little more expensive than 802.11g adapters and are not necessarily compatible across brands. The more pressing issue is that their compatibility with the official n standard--when it finally goes through--isn't guaranteed. Consider pre-n networks only if you have an immediate need. For more on pre-n routers, see "Finding MIMO".

Hold the Phone
This wireless phone service is at your beck and call.

Not everyone needs to install a complex on-site phone system to handle their communications. Businesses that need a lot of flexibility can look into something like Office Depot's Wireless Office service. No hardware installation is required, and users can choose from a lengthy menu of features. The heart of the system is a virtual switchboard that can organize a hodgepodge of cell and landline numbers under one main number. It's an intriguing solution for businesses that have remote workers, telecommuters or a collection of offices in different locations. It can also help businesses that have no physical headquarters make a professional impression.

Available features include a virtual receptionist, retail call routing, fax reception, voice mail and customizable call routing. There are a variety of pricing plans based on the number of minutes used per month. The unlimited plan is $90.95 per month with a $9.95 activation fee. Local minutes are included; long distance runs 5 cents per minute. Ten menus, 10 extensions and 10 voice-mail boxes are included; after that, a small fee applies for each additional block of 10. All in all, it's a low-hassle way to invest in a phone system without having to load up on equipment.

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This article was originally published in the March 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The N is Near.

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