The Journey to 802.11n Winds down as WLANs Take Center Stage

Carl Weinschenk

The one constant in IT, as it is in life, is change. Over the past few years, wireless local-area networks (WLANs) have migrated from ad hoc parallel networks of convenience to highly secure and mission-critical network elements that are co-equal to the wired LAN in importance and in the amount of money spent on their care and feeding.


For some companies, at least.Last week, I interviewed Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for the Aberdeen Group. Borg said that best-in-class organizations-in other words, those that get it-are marrying their wired and wireless LANs under a highly secure umbrella.


The industry doesn't move in unison, of course, and there are many other companies whose WLANs continue to limp along as the perpetual weak sister. Those who are in denial should wake up. One step toward doing this is to look at the data points Borg offers on the benefits that accrue to companies that react more proactively. For instance, says Borg, WLANs that got the best-in-class treatment:


...increased their traffic on their WLAN by 229 percent since their program's inception. They had a 201 percent increase in the portion of their organization covered by the WLAN signal and a 121 percent decrease in WLAN downtime.


A nice bookend to Borg's comments, which were based on a report he wrote that was released by Aberdeen in late May, is the fact that 802.11n is finally headed down the home stretch to full standard-hood. PC World says that The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is about to mercifully end the seven-year process.


The story details precisely where 802.11n is, which seems to be in the final throes of official sign off. All that's left are a couple of final procedural steps. Any substantive problem with the standard would have been exposed by now. Though there is a lot of pre-standard 802.11n gear in the field, the long-delayed finalization of the standard is a milestone that echoes the thought that WLANs should be given the same importance as the wired network.


The need for tight and coordinated integration of wired and wireless LANs also is growing because people are transitioning to wireless. Network World reports that many organizations-led by the academic community, which often leads on WLAN issues-are moving in droves to 802.11 in general and 802.11n in particular. When speed and robustness are eliminated as key differentiators-when, in essence, the two types of networks become roughly equal in performance-802.11n wins because of its flexibility. That, of course, makes it increasingly important to manage and protect it as robustly as the wired LAN.


The differences between the benefits garnered from WLANs by organizations employing best-in-class, average and laggard approaches are stark. There is no reason that companies that use wireless technology, especially those moving to 802.11n, shouldn't strive to gain these benefits.

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