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802.11n: Myth vs. Reality

Most people think of the upcoming 802.11n Wi-Fi standard as the best thing since wireless bread -- who doesn't want more speed and longer range? But even wireless vendors acknowledge that the hype may have overtaken the reality.
Most people think of the upcoming 802.11n Wi-Fi standard as the best thing since wireless bread -- who doesn't want more speed and longer range? But even wireless vendors acknowledge that the hype may have overtaken the reality.Ruckus CEO Selina Lo points out that 802.11n employs a host of new parameters such as frame aggregation, channel bonding, multiple Wi-Fi radios, and multi-path signaling to dramatically increase the capacity and range of Wi-Fi. But all that newness has also fostered a number of misconceptions:

1. 802.11n solves all things wireless. Nope. 802.11n remains highly susceptible to degrading performance at a distance.

2. 802.11n will offer 100 Mbps and more everywhere all the time. We wish. 802.11ns performance degradation means these performance levels will be achieved SOME of the time, not all the time.

3. Interference is not an issue with 802.11n. 802.11n solves the Wi-Fi speed, but not reliability, so interference is still an issue.

4. 802.11n will eclipse 802.11g for client use. Sure, eventually. But there are still a lot of legacy systems out there, and they wont go away any time soon.

5. The raw capacity of 802.11n makes multimedia support over Wi-Fi a non-issue. Baloney. With applications like voice and video, it's not about bandwidth capacity, it's about delay, and 802.11n alone is not the answer there.

Given these realities, when and where should 802.11n first be deployed? According to Ruckus, a prime initial application of 802.11n is as a backhaul wireless technology for aggregating 802.11g client traffic through a meshed wireless network. This approach doesnt require a huge investment to get some 802.11 benefits, while continuing to leverage legacy 802.11g systems and clients. Personally, though, Id push on ahead and convert as many access points and client systems as quickly as you can afford. You simply cant have too much bandwidth, and Im convinced that faster connections almost always pay for themselves in productivity gains. Ive already converted my home router, for example, even though several of my machines still use 802.11g, or even 802.11b. I mean, who wants to wait?