There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

Summary: 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.

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And, it's only going to get worse. Deal with it.

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.

Topics: Mobility, Networking, Security, Wi-Fi

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14 comments
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  • The internet connection itself is more likely the culprit in most cases

    Think about it - G wifi runs at 54 MBps. In order to not saturate the outgoing internet connection, the outgoing connection must be at least that. There are very few people with Verizon FIOS, and most businesses do not even have 10 MBps internet connections. So, imagine how many have 100 MBps connections, and you will see why the actual connection is the bottleneck and not the wifi network.

    Apple's situation was unique because of all the access points.
    davidknechtges@...
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @davidknechtges@... you're partially right, but because of frame overhead (and their Acks), maximum true throughput for 11a and 11g is just over 27Mbps. Still, most cable connections max out @6Mbps, unless you've paid extra for a 10, 15 or 20MBps connection. Even then, you might not actually have that much bandwidth available (if you pay extra for it, I recommend testing it often at places like http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest or http://www.speedguide.net/speedtest/ et al... and don't be too quick to blame your provider without a baseline - and a retest - on your LAN first).
      Darr247
  • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

    You're absolutely right. Applications will continue to consume all available bandwidth and then some. Similar to how PC programs used to exceed the RAM and hard drive space on the computers. Applications will always push the envelope.

    Alan
    BallantyneGuy
  • New concept

    My new concept for streaming video would be to have what is essentially a city-wide WiFi system - a single transmitter that would stream video at high power from a central antenna. The number of WiFi receivers for the system is unlimited, because there is no feedback from the receiver. The transmitter would operate on a predetermined schedule, streaming a single video program at a time. Other high-power transmitters would stream other videos on other radio frequencies, according to their own schedules. Consumers could choose which video to watch, simply by tuning the receiver to the desired frequency. Because there are no demands on a server to transmit packets to individual computers, phones, etc., the number of consumers is limited only by the number of receivers you can cram into any given space within the city and its surrounding region.
    The simplicity of the scheme is the heart of its brilliance. It's the wave of the future.
    kidtree
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @kidtree - Heh... funny.

      Way to reinvent broadcast television.
      Darr247
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @kidtree We used to call that system "Television".
      blaacksheep
  • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

    You need to research Meru Networks. They do wireless differently and overcome many of these issues. For example, they can have all the APs in an area running on the same channel without interference.
    h82loze
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @bwillingham@... That's just mesh networking which doesn't solve anything. Meshes only scale to a point and then they saturate. Even if you solve the RF issue you can't solve the web traffic issue.
      DevGuy_z
  • A convention center SHOULD have the pipe big enough

    to give enough (enough IS relative, I put it at 300k) bandwidth to everyone. Everyone is not using 300k all the time so its not as much as it sounds. Dole it out evenly so no one bogs the system down. Ban use of personal APs. Problem solved.
    shadfurman
  • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

    Come to Korea, they seem to have solved the problem.
    BullDawg 
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @BullDawg? Yes Korea, the fastest internet speed of the world. Thumbs up to Asian people. [url=http://xtremeno-musclebuilder.com/]Xtreme NO[/url]
      nazr
  • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

    Every few years you see articles like this --- Saying that recent video watching or large image viewing will chew up the bandwidth and we'll all be slowed to a crawl. What about wireless routers that will appear within the next 3-5 years?

    No one sits around and uses technology from 10 years prior, so expect hardware to upgrade just as our browsing habits do.
    jrockefeller1@...
    • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

      @jrockefeller1@...
      The problem is something called "Shannon's law". It explains that there is a limit to how much data can be carried over a channel. For example, you cannot encode 10Mbps onto a 1MHz carrier wave using a 1kHz channel. Not physically possible.

      So there is a limit. Technology will allow us to get closer to those limits, but demand will always exceed it.
      mheartwood
  • RE: There will never be enough Wi-Fi bandwidth

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