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Beyond 802.11n: Enterprise WLAN Trends For 2010

While the big news coming out the enterprise WLAN market was certainly the long overdue final ratification of the 802.11n standard, this past year saw a slew of new products and new solutions that firm up wireless' role in the enterprise as well as a number of acquisitions in the WLAN market place and a number of significant shifts in the OEM relationships of several wired switch vendors. The new year is already shaping up to be similar, with Meru Networks already announcing plans to take the company public. With many networking vendors seeking to offer complete solutions, look for more acquisitions and partner realignments. What else will be on offer in 2010? Here are a upcoming few trends that will likely be key factors in the wireless networks in the coming year:

Onslaught of Wireless Clients

In the consumer market, WiFi has been rolled into nearly every available smartphone, but has also worked its way into printers, TV's, digital cameras, and just about any other electronic device you can imagine.  Like WiFi itself, the continued push of "IT consumerization" will no doubt pull products like these into the enterprise, with users expecting IT to support and provide access for them. The upcoming year will also see new low power 802.11n chipsets make their way into handhelds. While not as capable as their laptop counterparts, these new chipsets will still offer improved performance over existing protocols, as well as enable enterprises to begin the move out of mixed mode networks and into native 802.11n designs.

The Rise of the Mission Critical WLAN

Wireless vendors are already seeing that enterprises are building out larger 802.11n deployments, despite the enhancements to range offered the new standard. Instead, the larger deployments signal that for many enterprises, the upgrade to 802.11n is also an upgrade from the "network of convenience" to one of ubiquitous wireless access. With more and more users relying on wireless as their primary form of access, enterprises will have to put the WLAN on an equal footing with the rest of the network and commit the resources necessary to bring access to users, wherever they need to roam.

Management, Management, Management
When framed in the context of a mission critical component of an enterprise's networking infrastructure, the demand for always on, always available access will push WLANs to similar service level requirements as their wired brethren.  The management suites that monitor and maintain the networks will continue to evolve and will have to integrate even tighter with the overall management platforms of the enterprise. Beyond the similar metrics, including quality of service and throughput, wireless networks also face an additional, usually unseen issue:  RF spectrum interference.  Because the 802.11 standards rely on the unlicensed spectrums, any number of other devices can be attempting to use that spectrum, causing performance and connection issues. Tools for peering into the air and identifying sources of trouble exist today, but are often standalone or overlay products. Look for WLAN vendors to pull these diagnostic tools into the WLAN offerings themselves and integrate them as a key component of the wireless architecture.

802.11n Everywhere
In past years, WLAN vendors have focused much of their attention on the biggest section of the market, with indoor access points for the front office dominating the product offerings. With ratification behind them, expect vendors to deliver 802.11n access products for a full range of deployments, from small remote offices to hardened solutions for shop floor and industrial applications. The ultimate objective, of course, will be to replace the existing 802.11a/b/g products will 802.11n equivalents.