Does 802.11n spell the 'end of Ethernet'?

Analyst says 802.11n is 'good enough' for wireless client access

"But who cares?" asks the report. In both cases, the absolute value of the 11n results is still only a small fraction of the wireless VoIP "budget." Both latency and jitter in 11n should be "good enough," DeBeasi argues.

Allred and Ruman agree. "I think for the bulk of users, this would be sufficient," Allred says. "In my environment -- at this time -- it's not the bandwidth but the ability to connect from all locations that is key."

"Currently I think 150Mbps to 180Mbps is plenty," says Ruman. "Most companies are still using 100Mbps switches and have not made the jump to Gigabit past the data center anyway."

"Personally I feel it will have to go higher than 150Mbps to 180Mbps," says Mitchel Prevatte, CTO/CSO for Coppin State College, Baltimore, Md. "In a switched world, you'd have all of that as useful bandwidth for each user... Also, I'm not sure of propagation distances of that high bandwidth. It could take lots and lots of access points."

Ruman is keenly aware that enterprise applications are changing, and the changes will demand that 11n keep pace in bandwidth. "In the future, I think speeds will need to be close to gigabit speeds," he says. "More rich media applications, video collaboration, and other higher bandwidth applications are desired by enterprises. You can't tell users than application or service they use at their desk is unavailable wirelessly."

And for some specialized needs, 11n is still not good enough. Hess Houston, uses an array of demanding geophysical research applications. "Even 200Mbps is not fast enough for our application delivery model for scientific applications," says Alan Mayo, external services coordinator for Hess.

The report concludes the added challenges of WLANs -- increased complexity for net management and security, the need for radio management tools -- are being overcome with a growing array of new tools. And in the not too distant future, LAN switches will incorporate support for wireless clients as a matter of course. As that happens, "it will become more difficult to purchase separate wired and wireless products," DeBeasi writes.

In the meantime, large-scale enterprise WLAN projects coming to fruition over the next 12 to 18 months should look hard at 11n, he says. One client plans to deploy 1,000 access points next year, and currently they will be 11g devices, with a top throughput of 20Mbps to 25Mbps. "By fall of 2008, a lot of laptops will have 11n embedded. Do you want to have 11n laptops rolling into your enterprise, and unable to use the WLAN except as 11g clients?" he asks.

Laptop refresh cycles and WLAN deployments need to be factored together, which may it make attractive to deploy an 11n infrastructure soon, which can be used by 11g clients, but also used as those clients transition to 11n interfaces.

DeBeasi admits 11n comes with an added premium, which seems to vary now from 20% to 100% over 11abg products. "But those are list prices," he points out. "Over the next six months, these will decrease. Over the next 12 months, as volumes come up, we'll see a pretty fast drop in prices. By first or second quarter next year, it will be an incremental premium of 20% to 25%."

So, is 11n the end of Ethernet for client access? Our users say no - or at least, not yet. But some say the writing is on the wall.

"I believe that once the WLAN is as reliable as wired access, you will begin to see enterprises move away from wired infrastructures, based on cost savings alone (in both wire and labor)," says Allred. "But that being said, I don't think this change will come overnight."

"11n is not the 'hard wire killer' yet," says Ruman. "Some users still need wire speed and population density of cubicles is still too great in some areas to provide a comfortable wireless experience."

"I don't think the end is here," says Mayo. "Ask me again in 10 years." Coppin State's Prevatte thinks the same. "I don't see wired Ethernet going anywhere soon," he says.

DeBeasi's thesis has been savaged on some online forums (one online poster wrote "You will take away my Cat6 only if I am dead. You better double kill me so I don't haunt you to get my cables back").

"11n is the beginning," he says. "Maybe it's time to not pull that cable..."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Cox

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?