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SMBs Face Key Decisions About WLANs, 802.11n

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A News.com commentary by Selina Lo, the CEO of Ruckus Wireless, touches on the intricacies of corporate Wi-Fi deployments. The base question is why small and medium-sized business (SMB) use of the technology has languished while the consumer market has thrived.

 

Lo quotes two research houses. Forrester ran a survey of more than 500 SMBs in the U.S. and Europe and found that more than half had no plans for Wi-Fi. Dell'Oro Group says penetration into the enterprise is only about 15 percent, Lo says.

 

Wi-Fi, which will soon be given the new capabilities and face the new challenges of 802.11n, is not as simple to deploy in a corporate environment as it is in a home or very small business. In a small setting, a single access point (AP) does the job. In bigger wireless local area network (WLAN) rollouts, a great number of APs must be deployed and managed. This requires careful planning and a lot of monitoring and agility to deal with environmental issues and topology changes once the system is deployed.

 

Peeling the onion a bit reveals what the difficulty is. Wi-Fi signals are vulnerable to myriad sources of interference. When faced with this confusion, Wi-Fi systems throttle down and provide far lower data rates than their advertised top speeds. Needless to say, this makes for a lot of awkward calls between those using the technology and the IT department.

 

This is a challenging landscape. A corporate WLAN will have to support all traditional corporate data services and, increasingly, iPhones, Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerries, and scores of other powerful devices. While tools and business-grade infrastructure -- such as recently released products from Aruba and NextHop -- are available, the airwaves will be busy and the demands great.

 

Another layer of increasing complexity is the Wi-Fi network itself. 802.11n is a higher-speed version of Wi-Fi that ties multiple Wi-Fi radios together. These radios can interfere with each other and bring in more troublesome signals from the surrounding environment. The answer, Lo says, is smart beam technology that monitors the radio frequency (RF) environment and directs signals away from noisy areas.

 

While those palliatives may work, the signs point to increasing complexity. Decisions about 802.11n must be made by IT departments and C-level executives within this context. The road to a 802.11n standard has been a rough one, and a final version isn't expected in the near future. In an effort to gain market share, the Wi-Fi Alliance last month began interoperability testing of pre-standard 802.11n gear. This CRN piece looks at some of the gear that has been certified.

 

The world of enterprise Wi-Fi has many moving parts. Corporate infrastructures must be stabilized and SMB managers must thoroughly understand the technical ramifications of WLAN deployments and simply whether they have the manpower to support such a finicky new platform. They also must decide whether to move to 802.11n or, as some observers suggest, do everything possible to wait until the dust settles and a final standard is promulgated.

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