My friends at VMworld, VMware's annual trade show, tell me that the Wi-Fi sucks dead ducks through rusty tailpipes. I'm not surprised. If Steve Jobs' Wi-Fi can fail while unveiling the Apple iPhone 4 to over a thousand Apple fans and journalists at the Moscone West conference hall in San Francisco, it can fail for anyone.
Guess what? It's only going to get worse. Time was that people used Wi-Fi only for e-mail and basic Web surfing. Now, as I sit in a coffee shop in my hometown of Asheville, NC, I see one person with an iPhone 4 looking at YouTube videos and another, with their brand new iPad watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Netflix. That's a whole lot of bandwidth being used up.
So far, my coffee shop's bandwidth, which uses an 802.11g access point (AP), seems to be holding up. I don't think -- I know -- that it won't take much more video-streaming to bring its Internet access to a stumbling crawl.
As both Internet video and mobile entertainment devices like the iPad grow ever more popular, the load on network resources will only grow ever higher. Frankly, most public networks won't be able to handle it. After all, they're already failing.
For example, everyone, and I mean everyone, now wants access to Wi-Fi. And, it's not just on their laptops, but it's also on their smartphones, their tablets, and, by 2015, their glasses.
When Jobs' network melted down, it was largely because the area was saturated with over 500 Wi-Fi APs! Most of these were Mi-Fi phones that used their 3G connections to share out Wi-Fi. The result was like trying to swim in a pool overflowing with five-year olds: No one was getting anywhere.
On top of that, though, even if Apple or Moscone's staff had locked down the kiddies, there's still the problem that Wi-Fi itself can only be shared so far. If you use 802.11g, you're stuck in the 2.4GHz range and you really can only use three channels. That means, for all practical purposes, you can only have three APs covering one region before you start running into interference problems.
802.11n, which is usually set to use the 2.4GHz range, can also use 5GHz, and that helps a lot. At the end of the day, though, a huge coffee-shop or conference room can only have about six APs sharing out the bandwidth goodies at once.
Now, throw into those spaces a few hundred users all of whom want to Twitter, check on their favorite Web sites, and, oh, I don't know, watch their favorite YouTube video, again, and you've got a problem. Oh, and did I mention that you also need to supply a big enough pipeline to the Internet to support all those APs and their users?
No, we may not like W-Fi shortages; in fact, we hate them. But we're going to have to get used to them. When it comes to gatherings and Wi-Fi, there's just not going to be enough bandwidth to go around. Get used to it.