Waiting May be the Best Policy on 802.11n

Carl Weinschenk

It is fair to say that the rollout of 802.11n is a drama, but a painfully slow one. Think "The English Patient." This successor to 802.11 is out in draft form, but the official standard isn't expected until next year.


We've written a lot about this topic because it is a matter of ongoing concern to every IT manager and planner out there. Should the organization jump into the 802.11n draft standard? Should it wait for the full standard? The point is that this isn't a question to ask once and forget. Managers should be revisited as more product enters the market and the organization's needs change.


This concise Network Observations post begins by saying that the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified more than 180 draft N products. The writer then provides pluses and minuses to buying 802.11n gear now. The pros include great speed and better performance. The cons include lack of a standard, typical first-generation flies in the ointment, absence of features that will be available later and the likelihood that the infrastructure will need to be upgraded to support the increased traffic. The writer concludes by posing three questions managers and planners should ask before deciding on whether to go with 802.11n.


There wouldn't be so many products in the field if the demand wasn't there. This week, for instance, Cisco announced that Concordia University in Montreal is deploying what it says is the first 802.11n network at a Canadian university. The school, which serves 40,000 students, is using the vendor's Aironet 1250 series access points (APs) that will work in concert with a parallel project supporting outdoor telephony and data storage functions on a wireless mesh infrastructure.


There is no doubt that 802.11n represents improvements over earlier 802.11 variants. Nothing comes for free, however. 802.11n APs consume more power than 8o2.11a, b or g APs. This Network World piece goes through the math. The short version is that organizations deploying dual radio APs must question vendors very carefully. Power over Ethernet (PoE) standards used to drive many APs have power restraints, the details of which are described in the piece. It is difficult to see how the rules can be followed without either shutting down some features, reducing range or using an extra Ethernet port. The writer says that the customer may be unconcerned, but certainly would want to know if this is how their new APs will operate.


Telephony Online is not the first, and won't be the last, publication or site to discuss when to opt for 802.11n. It's a good piece, however. After extolling the virtues of the nascent standard -- and mentioning that Cisco, Meru, Aruba, Trapeze, Colubris and Ruckus have products in the field -- the writer outlines the by-now familiar tale of the long standards process.


The interesting element of the commentary is the idea that only a minority of organizations truly need 802.11n now. The most apt early users will be verticals, such as medicine, that have voracious data transport requirements. Most organizations may wait for the standard to arrive without a problem. The other interesting point is that performing the infrastructure upgrades necessary to support the increased 802.11n data rates is an expensive proposition, which also suggests that waiting is the preferred policy.

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