Network Middle East electronic edition 23rd January, 2005

While many are shouting from the rooftops about WiMax, the developments surrounding Wi-Fi are in danger of being neglected even though they are arguably more important.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  January 23, 2005

Is Wi-Fi ready for the enterprise?|~|leader-pic_m.jpg|~||~|WiMax may be in vogue but Wi-Fi is the wireless standard that is most likely to be in use in the enterprise today and this despite traditionally lacking finesse in the areas of security, management and scalability. However, a succession of proposed developments to the standard will go a long way to making Wi-Fi more robust. These advances should mean that Wi-Fi will claim a much more important role in the region in the next few years than any new wireless technology. Performance has traditionally held back Wi-Fi and as Gigabit cabling becomes more common and 10Gigabit becomes an option for the enterprise, the 54Mbytes/s offered by current Wi-Fi solutions is paltry in comparison. Furthermore, the actual throughput of Wi-Fi is typically far below the theoretical limit, because performance degrades with distance and adding more devices to the network as well as high protocol overheads also slow transmission speeds. However, a new standard, 802.11n, which is expected to be ratified by the IEEE by late 2006, aims to overhaul this. Uniquely, it is being designed to provide 100Mbytes/s of real throughput over a range of at least 100 feet. This means that the raw bit rate will probably be around 500Mbytes/s. This will take wireless to a speed that should easily satisfy most users in the enterprise and although it will still rely on wired technology on the backbone, it will certainly tempt many more mobile workers to consign cables to the dustbin of history. 802.11n may be some time off but Wi-Fi has already taken serious steps to harden its security offering, bringing it up to pace with cabled security according to many commentators. This is largely down to standards such as 802.1x and 802.11i, as well as WPA encryption, which although not flawless provides a formidable barrier to intruders. As well as raw performance and cracks in security, gripes on Wi-Fi have focused largely on manageability issues. However, a sure sign that the technology has matured is that management is improving. The standards bodies and vendors are coming up with protocols that flesh out the early promise of Wi-Fi. One example is in quality of service (QoS), with the upcoming 802.11e standard set to be a boon for traffic prioritisation and bandwidth provisioning. This will allow bandwidth in the enterprise to go further than at present. 802.11e represents the tip of the Wi-Fi management iceberg, however, with roaming a key issue to overcome if Wi-Fi is going to integrate seamlessly into an enterprise’s communications infrastructure. This is on the horizon, however, with the signaling protocols necessary for roaming from Wi-Fi to 3G expected to emerge during 2006. This aims to create seamless handoffs on voice calls between the Wi-Fi network within the enterprise and the cellular network outside the enterprise. There aren’t too many businesses in the region that pay their employees’ mobile phone bills but for those that do, this could represent a serious cost saving. Wireless vendor boffins are also working on technology to allow seamless roaming between wireless switches, which is important to those businesses that opt for a wireless model that loads the intelligence on to the switch at the expense of the access point. Of course for this to work, access points from different vendors will have to talk to each other. IETF protocol CAPWAP and the IEEE’s 802.11v aim to provide just this and the next few years will see these roll out. When you take these developments together, it points to growing signs of maturity and robustness for Wi-Fi. These strongly suggest that the next five to ten years could see Wi-Fi penetrate much further into the enterprise than the peripheral guest network role it typically occupies today.||**||

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