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A Wireless Edge? This Time For Real (Video)

The 802.11n task group formed in January 2004. Two weeks ago, it ratified the wireless standard. Two years ago, we started seeing implementations. The world works this way. If it was just a faster WiFi that would be unfathomable, but many predict this could be the true replacement of the wired edge network.
The 802.11n task group formed in January 2004. Two weeks ago, it ratified the wireless standard. Two years ago, we started seeing implementations. The world works this way. If it was just a faster WiFi that would be unfathomable, but many predict this could be the true replacement of the wired edge network.In the video below, Meru CTO Vaduvur Bharghavan provides a tutorial, at the whiteboard, on the new features of 802.11n. Surely Meru, a technology provider of 802.11n equipment has a vested interest in seeing wireless replace wired networks, but Meru is not alone.

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For a much more in depth written tutorial (for those of you engineering-minded folks), read this from TechOnline. Its author, Sathish Viswanathan has a masters in wireless communications, and specifically focused his studies on the PHY layer. (Whoa.)

While there are certainly some natural and easy wins for wireless edge applications (like education and healthcare), parlaying this success into the broader enterprise market hasn't been easy, and this is precisely what 802.11n should fix, according to Bharghavan. The result is a standard that "lets you build out networks, not just links."

While nobody will doubt that each progressive step up in WiFi standards drives higher performance (802.11n's effective throughput is about 200 Mbps), it is reliability and dependability that creates an enterprise-class network. Reliability, or the quality of the link, especially over longer distances, comes through a variety of RF enhancements. Predictability comes courtesy of the requirement for WMM (wireless multimedia) -- a framework for quality of service (or as Bharghavan puts it, a framework for handling contention). WMM is just a part of the standard, and it is up to the vendors to build their own algorithms on top of it. WPA2 security is also required.

While there is much to like, any time you create something that can scale for the enterprise, there is complexity, and 802.11n seems to be no exception. Like any wireless implementation, there is planning involved, but there are also lots of configuration parameters on the client side, according to Bharghavan. He also noted that as more applications require wireless access, and more devices become wireless, you'll need to start stacking channels the way you stack switches today. And one of the biggest headaches with most wireless networks, troubleshooting, gets even trickier with 11n, which has more spikes and its coverage is harder to predict.

So, uh, maybe another two years?

Fritz Nelson is an Executive Editor at InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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