WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE

  • 01/28/2016
    7:00 AM
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Wireless In 2016: A Waiting Game

From the IoT to regulatory issues, there's a lot of uncertainty ahead for wireless networking pros.

Everyone in the business of IT knows that change is constant, and the next technology advance is just around the bend. We never know if that bend will be measured in months or years, and the wireless community is at a particularly odd juncture. Those of us who do WiFi for a living are waiting for so many different and disparate trends to advance that I’m dubbing 2016 The Year of Wait and See.

Let’s start with the Internet of Things. With projected device counts in the billions by some analysts’ estimates, the IoT won’t just knock on the door and ask to come in. Some of it’s always been here in the form of odd-ball, headless networked devices. But the big IoT surge --  the one that gives lots of journalists something to write about --  doesn’t seem to really be in a hurry when it comes to enterprise adoption. Thus far, there’s a lot more smoke than fire and there’s no reason to think that the next several months will be any different in this regard.

Part of the delay stems from the fact  that IoT devices don’t use any single network technology. They might use 4G/5G, Bluetooth, wired Ethernet, proprietary technologies behind some IP-enabled bridge, or WiFi, including the new HaLow standard.  We’ll just have to see how IoT advances in 2016.

There’s also a fair amount of uncertainty when it comes to how the Federal Communications Commission -- a federal agency so pivotal to the wireless business landscape -- might proceed on a number of issues. I count myself among the WLAN professionals who anxiously await regulatory clarity on a number of issues, including LTE-U, how mobile carriers might disrupt the fast 5 GHz end of WiFi, and TLPS. There’s also the FCC’s murky opinion on WiFi jamming when it comes to hotel and convention center wireless intrusion prevention systems, and many in the industry are demanding clarity. Again, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Even our day-to-day wireless operations are somewhat stalled. On the one hand, we have blazingly fast 802.11ac technology, yet we really can’t exploit that fast wireless goodness because in many cases we’re waiting for device makers to do their part. Client devices are still shipping with dated radio chipsets, no enterprise security support, and a really strange and diverse mix of features. We ought to be able to leverage fast rates, wide channels, and enhancements like 802.11r and 11k for fast roaming, but the confounding state of the client device space works against us. Will it get better in 2016? It remains to be seen.

After all the M&A deals in the WLAN industry last year, wireless pros are still anxious about what might happen with their suppliers in 2016.  With HP buying Aruba Networks, Fortinet absorbing Meru, Ruckus buying Cloudpath, and Cradlepoint acquiring Pertino, it doesn't seem like there are many big deals left to contemplate. At the same time, Aerohive and Xirrus stand out as potential acquisition candidates. AirTight has just reinvented itself as Mojo Networks, and that may well be a measure taken to make itself more attractive for purchase. 

Despite this backdrop of uncertainty, there are some absolute givens we can count on in the coming year. Wireless will continue to grow as the preferred access method in virtually every segment of the market except the data center. We’ll figure out creative ways to get more signals in more places, and the types of devices that support wireless will continue to skyrocket.  The uncertainty that goes with wireless’s growth can be unnerving, but it also means we’ve got a lot of excitement coming in 2016.

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