Networking

Will wi-fi end the reign of the wired network?


You have heard the hype. It is clear. 802.11N, commonly known as Wi-Fi n is the next great leap in wireless technology. With 802.11g only giving you up to 56 Mbit/sec, the wireless N standard boasts speeds of up to 5 times faster by taking advantage of multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technology. Funny thing is 802.11n is still in a draft mode a year later with no plans to finalize until late 2008 or early 2009.

From a business perspective, many companies cannot wait for the standard to be finalized so they can begin the migration/adoption process but no business in their right mind would adopt the draft standards of 802.11N at this point in time. While many vendors are selling Wi-Fi-n Draft certified equipment, no one knows for sure if this equipment will upgrade when the standard is finalized. Are you willing to take that chance with your IT budget? I certainly would not.

As the bandwidth demands for companies increase dramatically, pressure is mounting for a finalized 802.11n standard. The demand for a standard is simple. There are two technologies that beg for increased bandwidth in order to be effective wirelessly. They are: videoconferencing and voice over IP (VOIP).

I travel a good bit around the country as a Technology Consultant and all conference rooms are equipped with VOIP phones and videoconferencing. I take advantage of these technologies daily.  In several conference rooms, I found that they were only equipped with a wireless connection for VOIP and videoconferencing.  It is painful to make a call and try to stream video on a maximum throughput of 56 Mbit/sec. This is the maximum. The farther you are away from your wireless access point, the slower this speed gets. This is why most VOIP phones and videoconferencing system are hard wired. It allows for 100 Mbit/sec  has a minimal lag.

With Wi-Fi-N draft standard, I have heard of people obtaining 100-120 Mbit/sec with the 802.11n equipment. That will allow wireless to begin to break out of its box.  If your wireless network can obtain the same bandwidth as a wired network, you will see a whole new business model emerge in the future. Over time the wired network may become a thing of the past. I can still remember driving to the beach with my parents as they blasted Elvis on the 8-track player.

New applications will be built on this standard opening up the door for many business users to take advantage of wireless technology. A lot of the limitations placed on companies at this time are bandwidth and security. Once the bandwidth issue is solved with 802.11 n and new security encryption standards birth such 802.11i, there will be no stopping the growth of Wi-Fi in the enterprise.

What do you think?

13 comments
russell.stewart
russell.stewart

Remember, unless you have one wireless access point per client, then you are sharing the available bandwidth. Remember the joys of hubs. On a wired switched network 100mbps to my desk top is 100 mbps. I need do of course need higher speed uplinks to take advantage of it. But 120mbps wireless shared between 10 workstations means 120mbps if only if the other 9 workstations are idle.If all 10 try to access the lan you are down to 12mbps.

RknRlKid
RknRlKid

I hate to say this, but wireless is just the current fad in IT. When Wireless networks were attempted to be used here at the school I work at, it was always a disaster. Unreliable to say the least. Wireless networking is simply not reliable in a production setting. As our network admin pointed out once, its ok to surf the internet with, but not for serious corporate networking. Regardless of whatever protocol is put out, wireless networking will never be as reliable or as secure as wire. This is a "Jurassic Park" moment. Just because technology allows you to do something, doesn't mean it should be done. Its admirable that some are pursuing greater technological feats in the realm of wireless networking. But to say that wireless will replace wire, that is a star trekian fantasy. Its not going to happen.

ebacher
ebacher

I am a telephone technician by trade, and as of late mainly working in the VOIP arena. I took a VOIP phone home from work, connected it in my house as my new home phone. Of course, living in an apartment and not having the requisite Cat 5, I use an 802.11g connection to my PC and then bridged to the wired NIC in my PC. This works great in my house, because there are only 2 of us, the odds that one of us is surfing while the other is on the phone is fairly low, but this brings me to my point. Wireless traffic is by definition broadcast. That means each packet destined for 1 device, is actually sent to all, like a hub. This also means that there cannot be prioritization on a wireless network. Without prioritization, the reliability of VOIP is a crap shoot. So, the only way that wireless will ever totally replace wired, would be if people suddenly decided that they didn't want to run VOIP anymore. Or if we invented VOIP phones that gave you a piece of candy every time they dropped a call.

robo_dev
robo_dev

You are correct that at Layer 2, WLAN devices act as mac-layer bridges and are a shared medium. But packet prioritization happens at layer 3, and enterprise-class WLAN devices like Airespace, Cisco or Symbol all support traffic prioritization, QOS, and even some VOIP features. For example, most Symbol APs support SVP (SpectraLink Voice Prioritization) and Cisco and others allow priority to be assigned to particular ESSIDs in order to assign QOS to VOIP. Here's an article on that: http://www.networkcomputing.com/showitem.jhtml?docid=1525ws1 WLANs are by no means a 'dream world' for voice apps of any sort. My testing a few years back of SpectraLink devices was not pretty. Poor voice quality, dropped calls, limited features, lack of scalability....

Larry the Security Guy
Larry the Security Guy

In my industry, data security is paramount. The thought of any of that data being transmitted over the air, giving criminals a greater opportunity to steal that data, quickly ends any further discussion of deployment, and we're only one of a large number of competitors and partners. Now I know all the arguments surrounding wireless security, that there are numerous options available, but there is still the simple fact that the data, encrypted or otherwise, is being transmitted not only to the intended receiver but to every receiver within range. That, in our eyes, means there is a greater potential of losing control of the data, and that's something that we just can't allow to happen. No, for residential use and some industries, wi-fi on the last mile could benefit both the user and provider, but I don't think it will "end the reign of the wired network"

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...of a hard-wired network. I've been lucky in being able to convince most of my clients of this. Most of the times in business settings that I've deployed wireless, it's been on a temporary basis, and it's always outside the firewall and using VPN tactics to get inside.

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

GigaBit Ethernet. I agree that a finalized N standard will be great; there's nothing like a good performance boost. But, I always find it a bit funny that people seem to ignore the fact that wired standards are also improving. Wireless N is nowhere near the speed of GigaBit wired connections which are already around today. In summary: Increased performance in wireless is great, but let's not get ahead of ourselves and assume that it will be replacing wired connections.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I have a group of users that work with large files over the network (CAD and what not). Through the use of dual gigabit nic teaming the files are accessed at the about same rate as if they were stored locally. The difference is negligible enough that no one noticed that a disabled their D: drives and mapped them to a network share overnight(I hated the thought of those guys/gals working on important/sensitive files that could be lost if the machine had an issue). Wouldn't be possible without fibre channel and a 10 gig backbone on the backend of things, along with all Cisco equipment optimized to handle this type of traffic on this network segment. These speeds will never happen reliably with wireless given the current technology. And let's not even get into the security aspect. Wireless is never truely secure unless you go wireless with the powerplug as well. :) **Edited for having fat fingers and a little keyboard...ultra portable laptop does not equal ultra user friendly

CG IT
CG IT

There are certainly places that WiFi will dominate the infrastructure for the network and there will always be places where wired will be prefered infrastructure. Especially with data that the company wants very little risk of that data getting out. I don't necessarily buy into the "latest and greatest" technology mindset where implementing the latest and greatest means your getting the best. Marketing hype often gets into the way of prudent choices and in WiFi adoption I think many exchange prudence for cost effectiveness or ease of use. The real question is, is it prudent to deploy WiFi for a given task rather than is it cheaper or easier.

robo_dev
robo_dev

It could be subject to a wide range of DOS or interference-based attacks (jamming).

Smart_Neuron
Smart_Neuron

The Draft-N is nonsense. This should be fast tracked to finalize by Q3 2008. Then comes the question of security. To set-up and secure a wireless network takes a great deal of work - certainly not for the novice. Ease-of-use is paramount. If the correct resources are focused on the final specification and NOT the draft, there is no reason why this cannot be available to the public in a reasonable amount of time.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I agree with your desire to get the protocol ratified, but the IEEE workgroup is trying to get it right this time. Also 802.11n is a great deal more complicated and all-encompassing than the other protocols. I suspect that has much to do with the deliberate pace as well. I also would like to humbly disagree that Draft 2.0 equipment is nonsense, it is being rolled out by some very knowledgeable enterprise and university organizations. It also has tested very well. If you are interested I just finished a blog post about the Cisco 1250, their enterprise 802.11n AP. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/wireless/?p=215 You also have to remember that the Wi-Fi Alliance has been a part of this process since the beginning, where as it was an after the fact for 802.11a/g. That alone is making a significant difference in how 802.11n is perceived. In most cases a Wi-Fi Alliance certification is more important than the original finalized protocol.