The future of WLAN in the enterprise

How can an organization implement and scale a wireless network that will deliver the same quality of service as the predictable wired network?
Written by Dirk Gates, Xirrus, Contributor on
Commentary -Within the next 5 years, wireless networking will become the primary network connection within the enterprise, driven by an ever-increasing number of wireless computing devices and mobile applications. Consumer adoption of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and notebooks is forcing IT to look beyond just security and manageability of their WLANs and think seriously about the scalability, density planning, and overall user performance of their wireless services. But how can an organization implement and scale a wireless network that will deliver the same quality of service as the predictable wired network?

We all know that today’s workforce is connected 24/7 and that technology is a critical component to how people communicate and transact on a daily basis. Businesses need to remain connected to their customers, servicing them when and where customers want. Schools need to obtain and share information with students across campuses worldwide, enabling real-time collaboration. Hospitals need to access patient records at a moment’s notice, delivering better and more accurate care. Shipping ports need to track and secure containers of goods coming on and off ships, improving efficiencies and security.

The way in which we work has changed and this shift to mobility is driving a new standard for enterprise networking – one that is convenient and flexible for employees, guests, students, patients, and clients. Within the next 24 months, 60-80% of enterprise employees will rely upon wireless connectivity for their business-critical applications. Further, these people will have not one wireless device, but two or three – many are already carrying an Android, iPad, and notebook computer. Whether they are connecting to local data centers or cloud-based services, the vast majority of these devices are shipping without Ethernet ports, making wireless the de facto connection.

As this consumerization of IT rolls forward, the demand for 24/7 mobile connectivity must be seriously thoughtout, planned, and delivered. For example, many organizations were caught flat-footed with the abrupt adoption of the iPad this past year – working hard to catch up and provide a positive and secure environment in which these devices can operate has taxed many IT departments. IT needs to remain agile and stay ahead of the mobile workers – to continue to plan and drive the change within their networks.

The manner in which WLAN networks have traditionally been deployed is flawed. The days of hot spots or overlay networks using two-radio home access points is over. These two-radio access points should be used in the home where they support a handful of people and devices, not in an enterprise supporting hundreds or thousands of users.

The days of only deploying WLAN strictly for coverage, security, and manageability has now been resolved with existing 802.11 standards. For example, with the existing 802.11 security standards, all the main WLAN vendors have a solution that resolves those concerns. Even the US Marines have deployed a WLAN for mission-critical top-secret network connections. Don’t get me wrong, coverage, security, and manageability should remain part of the planning criteria. What I’m saying is that IT must now focus on performance – the ability to deliver high-speed network access to thousands of users wirelessly – to support more users, deliver more bandwidth, provide a positive experience for everyone, and keep costs under control.

The answer to density and performance is simple – add more radios to the air – just like you add more switch ports for wired users. The cellular phone industry learned this years ago when they moved away from installing omni-directional radios to installing an array of directional radios. We need to think and plan for WLAN capacity like we do the wired network – calculate how many client devices you’ll need to support and deploy the appropriate number of radios.

Some critics site that by putting more radios in the air, one creates a huge collision domain because Wi-Fi is a shared medium. Another problem that was resolved by the cellular industry – by integrating radios with directional RF patterns in a circular pattern, they were able to deploy more radios to support more clients and deliver more bandwidth.

Giving users the freedom to connect when, where, and how they want doesn’t need to be difficult, time consuming or costly. Microsoft Events actually is saving money deploying Wi-Fi at their events, as is the Port of Houston and Carnegie Mellon University. WLAN is not only secure and manageable, but if done correctly will increase the mobility, productivity, and overall quality of service for the user. Stop deploying and reconfiguring costly-wired networks – deploy a secure, scalable, and cost-effective wireless network.

Dirk Gates, CEO of Xirrus, carries more than 15 years of executive management experience and a proven track record. Mr. Gates founded Xircom, Inc. in 1988 on the premise of delivering Ethernet connectivity to mobile computers. During his tenure as chairman and CEO, Mr. Gates led Xircom into the wireless arena through partnerships and acquisitions that positioned the company to deliver mobility solutions based on IEEE 802.11, GPRS and BlueTooth technologies. He subsequently negotiated the sale of Xircom to Intel Corp. in March of 2001.

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