Wireless will become the primary LAN technology

The mainstream consumer market started seeing Wi-Fi products based on IEEE 802.11ac standard in 2013. The standard is the fifth generation of Wi-Fi networking technology that promises more bandwidth to users at home and the office. The new Wi-Fi brings new improvements to wireless networks including offering 1.3Gbps of bandwidth (in the so-called Wave 1) and the ability for an access point (AP) to communicate with more than one client device simultaneously. The standard operates only in the 5 GHz band instead of 2.4 GHz band, which means better performance and no interference with legacy Wi-Fi devices, cordless phones, and Bluetooth [1].

Wireless

Until now, wireless local area networks (WLANs) were considered low performing compared to their wired counterparts. Security and reliability concerns also contribute to assigning WLANs a secondary role in organizations to provide limited services, such as guest connectivity to the Internet or temporary connectivity to employees in boardrooms.

As wireless standards such 802.11ac and future standards are raising the bandwidth ceiling to new heights, the WLAN performance will not be a bottleneck any longer. The next upgrade to 802.11ac, Wave 2, increases the theoretical maximum bandwidth to 7Gbps. A new standard, 802.11ad, will offer 7Gbps bandwidth in the 60GHz spectrum band and will be marketed as Wi-Gig [2]. Also, the work on 802.11ax, the Wi-Fi successor of 802.11ac, is already in progress to provide even higher connection speeds [3].

The imminent future of gigabit wireless will enable applications that were only possible with wired networks, such as VoIP, videoconferencing, and streaming media. Moreover, trends such as BYOD and the ubiquity of mobile devices used by employees may motivate employers to replace their wired LAN with WLANs as their primary infrastructure rather than maintaining two distinct LAN technologies. This approach is also attractive economically as wireless infrastructure requires less ports per user, therefore, saving the cost of switches, equipment cabinets, and cabling.

Home users already moving away from wired networks. Laptops, tablets, and game consoles are expected to connect wirelessly, and now service providers are offering wireless TV receivers, severing more ties to the wired LANs [4]. The trend towards smarter homes is bound to increase the demand for wireless home networks as more sensors, security cameras, smart lighting devices and others are accessed and controlled remotely by the user.

The decision to switch to wireless as primary LAN technology is not straight forward. Security concerns, both real and perceived, need to be addressed. There are also significant costs associated with upgrading the backbone wired network to be able to deliver multi-gigabit pipes to each wireless AP in addition to the cost of deploying and managing the wireless infrastructure itself. Nevertheless, some experience deploying wireless as primary LAN technology has showed significant cost benefits [5][6].

This post also appeared on LinkedIn.

[1] Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. (2013). Gigabit Wi-Fi: 802.11ac is here: Five things you need to know. Available at: http://goo.gl/YfL3Wo.

[2] http://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wigig-certified.

[3] Eric Geier. (2014). What’s next for Wi-Fi? A second wave of 802.11ac devices, and then: 802.11ax. Available at: http://goo.gl/UzeW59

[4] http://www.bell.ca/Fibe-TV/Products/Wireless_Receiver

[5] Intel. (2006). Wireless LAN as the Primary Network [White Paper]. Available at:https://www.meritalk.com/uploads_legacy/whitepapers/wireless-lan-as-the-primary-network.pdf

[6] Intel. (2010). Accelerating the Enterprise Network Using 802.11n Wireless [White paper]. Available at:http://i.dell.com/sites/doccontent/business/smb/sb360/en/Documents/wp-mobile-accelerating-network.pdf