Report: Wi-Fi to supersede wired Ethernet

An analyst report has suggested that 802.11n Wi-Fi will start replacing wired Ethernet within the next two to three years

Wi-Fi will start replacing wired Ethernet within the next two to three years as users and applications go mobile, an IT analyst group has claimed.

In a report comparing gigabit Ethernet with the latest version of Wi-Fi — 802.11n — Burton Group suggests that companies should begin making plans for switching their local area networks (LANs) from wired to wireless.

"802.11n will put pervasive mobility on the fast track," said Burton Group analyst Paul DeBeasi on Tuesday. "IT professionals should start thinking now about how they will deploy, maintain, and benefit from an all-wireless LAN." In the report, DeBeasi claimed that 802.11n would make serious inroads into wired Ethernet's market within 24 to 36 months.

DeBeasi listed several reasons for the switch to 802.11n, including growing numbers of laptop users, increased use of mobile applications and the deployment of VoIP. He also suggested that users might consider the switch if they found "fast Ethernet" — the current widely deployed standard, as opposed to the new gigabit Ethernet standard — to offer sufficient throughput for their needs. Fast Ethernet offers a theoretical maximum throughput of 100Mbps, while 802.11n offers a maximum of 248Mbps.

"One can analyse the differences between 802.11n and Ethernet with regard to performance, security, manageability, cost and impact on staff," said DeBeasi. "However, the definitive and unalterable competitive advantage that 802.11n has over Ethernet is pervasive mobility." DeBeasi added that, while recent advances in radio design, security and wireless management would soon make 802.11n the preferred LAN access technology, wired Ethernet would continue to be necessary in switch trunks and data-centre networks for many years to come.

802.11n promises higher throughput, range and bandwidth than its predecessors. However, the standard's ratification has been a controversial affair, with final approval by the IEEE poised to come as late as 2009. As a result of that delay, the Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying equipment conforming to the draft standard earlier this year, in a bid to give customers (particularly in the consumer sector) some confidence in the interoperability of various vendors' 802.11n kit.