Historically, wireless LAN networks have creeped into enterprises in one of two ways, either as part of a broader solution, such as warehouse management, or as point products, providing convenient access for conference rooms and the like. Going forward, however, if your organization has not already moved to pervasive, mission critical WLANs throughout your locations, now is the time to make wireless a focus in your infrastructure planning.
The point is not to see broad acceptance of wireless among device manufacturers. Actually, getting a laptop without a WIFi adapter would require a special order, and even on cellphones, WiFi is quickly becoming a standard feature. Even items that you wouldn't normally network at all, such as video projectors and digital cameras, are adding wireless to the mix to make it easy to connect without dealing with a flurry of cabling. The proliferation of wireless devices is making technologies like Voice over WLAN , Fixed Mobile Convergence and location-based services real, practical solutions for enterprises. All of these technologies require more than a bunch of random access points purchased at the nearest big box store. They require a pervasive wireless network that is available everywhere the user may be along with the appropriate quality of service policies ensuring that a voice call isn't interrupted by a guy down the hall watching the latest YouTube video.
Beyond the applications for wireless, there are a few more basic reasons to consider an enterprise-grade wireless network platform for your organization. The most significant of these is the ease of management. With standalone access points, each device is an island, requiring individual care and maintenance. Any configuration changes require you to log on to each access point, ensuring that the change is applied properly. Moving to a enterprise class platform creates a central console for configuration, with any changes in policy pushed down to the end points. In most solutions, the access points also become aware of each other, adjusting their wireless radios to avoid interference, fill any gaps in coverage, as well as easing the hand-off of devices as users move throughout the building.
The rise of 802.11n should serve as the jumping-off point to rethink the role of wireless within network infrastructure. While most organizations will not embrace the notion of the all-WLAN "wireless enterprise" that many of the vendors are trying to pitch, bringing the wireless networks to a parity with wired will be key to giving your organization the agility it needs to embrace new technologies and solutions down the road.