Will 802.11ac Kill Wired Ethernet?

The evidence is all around us that wireless networks are rapidly replacing wired as the connectivity option of choice, and not just for mobile phones and tablets.

2 Min Read
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The new 802.11ac standard provides bandwidth equal to or surpassing that which is available to most wired users, but abandoning wired networks isn't for everyone just yet.

In both consumer and enterprise networks, wireless is king. According to Nemertes' benchmark research, spending on mobile devices and services will take up about 8% of overall IT budgets in 2015 -- a number that we expect to rapidly climb. More than half of companies are increasing spend on mobile devices, with a mean increase of around 25% a year. The shift to mobile goes beyond phones and tablets: On average about 29% of the typical user population will rely on Wi-Fi as their primary means of corporate connectivity -- a number that has almost doubled in the last 24 months.

Wireless standards continue to rapidly evolve to keep up with this growing demand for Wi-Fi access. The latest iteration of the venerable IEEE standard, 802.11ac Wave 1, offers upwards of 1.6 Gigabits of bandwidth, with Wave 2 upping potential per-user bandwidth north of 6 Gigs later this year. With support for QoS, and spectrum management enhancements that increase WLAN reach and density, the time may finally be right for companies to abandon wired networks all-together, but there's a catch; actually, three primary catches that IT leaders should consider before cutting the cord.

The Uplink: Let's step back for a minute and think about how most wireless networks are designed today. Access points are distributed around offices and other facilities, connecting back over Cat 5e or 6 cabling to an Ethernet switch located in a closet via 1 GigE switch port. Typically, that Ethernet switch powers the AP.

Obviously upping per-user access bandwidth to anywhere from 1 Gbps to 6 Gbps means that the 1 Gbps uplink is likely to quickly become saturated. While it's unlikely that end-user devices will use the full available bandwidth, even a dozen or two devices demanding 200-300 Mbps will strain the 1 Gbps uplink. So the answer is simple -- just upgrade the 1 GigE uplink to 10 GigE, right? Not so fast.

Read the rest of the article and Irwin's gotchas on NoJitter.


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