Study: 802.11n WLANs intrigue yet confuse IT execs

62 percent of respondents will upgrade incrementally, rather than all at once

A survey of 195 senior IT professionals found that nearly half, 44 percent, already have decided to implement high-throughput 802.11n wireless LANs. Even more remarkably, nearly one-third of respondents said 11n will replace wired LANs, at least for client access.

What attracts IT interest is the promise of faster speeds, expanded coverage area and the ability to support a broader range of bandwidth-hungry applications. But the survey also showed some widespread misconceptions about 11n.

The IEEE standard, now in draft 2, is still in development and won't be formally ratified until 2008. Most observers expect few if any substantive changes during that time. But earlier this year, a surprising number of wireless LAN vendors announced plans to introduce WLAN gear based on the draft standard.

That equipment is scheduled to begin shipping starting late this summer. AirMagnet just announced an upgrade to its laptop WLAN management software to cover 11n in both the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands.

Colubris, a WLAN vendor, sent e-mail invitations to two groups of IT execs, vice presidents and above, in April and May, and then tabulated the responses by 195 of them to14 mainly multiple choice questions in a Web questionnaire. The executives were employed in U.S. and Canadian companies with over 500 employees.

Of those who do plan to upgrade to 11n, 62 percent reported they will do so incrementally, rather than all at once.

Asked "what are your biggest concerns about moving to 802.11n?" respondents listed:

-- Cost (69 percent).

-- Compatibility (60 percent).

-- Security (47 percent).

-- Technical complexity (33 percent).

The survey also asked questions to find out how much senior IT executives knew about key 11n capabilities. Thirty-eight percent did not know the correct "theoretical bandwidth" of 11n, which the Colubris survey identifies as 300Mbps. But that figure will depend on the actual implementation by the vendor, on how many multiple antennas are used by the access point and the client, and whether the channel between them is 20-MHz or 40-MHz.

Only about one-third of respondents correctly identified 300 feet as the "touted coverage range" of 11n, though that figure also will vary based on radio power levels, and the building construction materials.

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