Research: Why 802.11n Will Revolutionize Connectivity

Dec 03, 2009


Nothing but Air: Why 802.11n Will Revolutionize Connectivity

To identify how wireless technologies are used today, we analyzed responses from the 779 business technology professionals from a wide array of industries who participated in our 2009 InformationWeek Analytics WLAN survey. Our top goals: Discover if, and when, evolving wireless networks might replace wired connectivity for most employees; examine preferences in architecture approaches; explore issues relating to WLAN regulatory compliance and security; and determine whether final ratification of 802.11n has influenced enterprise IT’s wireless plans.

The idea of eliminating wired LANs in favor of high-speed wireless has been around for a few years, but it’s still a provocative concept, and one our respondents are approaching with caution. End user network access is like a traditional wired telephone—it just needs to work. Our poll shows that chief among IT’s valid concerns are the reliability and consistency of the user experience, as well as network performance and data security.

Still, as a percentage of overall device purchases, wireless-capable mobile units such as laptops, netbooks and handhelds are growing. In our Oct. 2009 InformationWeek Analytics End User Device Management Survey, we asked 558 respondents about the percentage of various devices in use within their organizations. While desktops are still No. 1, with 49%, 40% of users have laptops (14% of those have both laptops and desktops). This shift will put pressure on organizations that have not made the leap to wireless while forcing further development of WLANs already in place as users come up with new ways to use their portable devices.

The assumption that modern WLANs are not secure is a misperception. Effective data protection is simply a matter of proper design and  implementation. However, our survey shows many respondents are still using legacy authentication and encryption mechanisms that are vulnerable to exploitation. This needs to be fixed. In addition, since its 1997 debut, the IEEE 802.11 wireless specification has gained vastly improved speed, security and manageability. Vendors of enterprise-class gear have likewise made significant technology advances. With the development of centralized management, quality of service, integrated firewalling and other features, enterprise AP networks are now much easier to deploy to large audiences. Still, despite consistent enhancements, WLAN technology has suffered from performance and reliability problems that make CIOs think twice about relying on it wholly.

802.11n is poised to change that. The newly ratified standard brings technologies to radically increase performance and improve range while maintaining security. It thrives in physical environments with obstacles and reflective surfaces, which until now have brought WLANs to their knees. In this report, we’ll discuss 802.11n’s benefits and reveal prerequisites for upgrading. We’ll also discuss various WLAN architecture approaches and explore issues relating to WLAN regulatory compliance and security. Finally, we’ll offer a roadmap for educating IT staff about wireless. The technology underlying today’s WLANs is complex. If wireless is to become a centerpiece of the infrastructure, it’s time to add formal education as part of your budget appropriation. Staff training will yield a better overall system, reduce support calls, lower costs and increase user satisfaction.

After all, the ultimate goal for the WLAN is complete availability and affordability… kind of like picking up a phone. 

Survey Name: InformationWeek Analytics WLAN Survey
Survey Date: July 2009
Region: North America
Number of Respondents: 779

Research Report