Wireless LANs vs. wired LANs

Abandoning wired links proving not so crazy after all as 802.11n emerges.

For years, this was one of those non-arguments. Who in their right mind would exchange a dedicated Gigabit or even 100Mbps wired Ethernet connection for a shared 54Mbps wireless one?

College students, it turns out. On campus after campus, even with high-speed wired connections in their dorm rooms, most students who have WLAN access use it as their main connection to campus applications, libraries and labs, and the Internet. Increasingly, that's happening in business as well: people with wireless clients expect to connect...anywhere.

This argument is heating up, for two reasons. First, new software and silicon now let vendors build wireless LAN functions directly into Ethernet switches. The infrastructure will handle both wired and wireless access with integrated security and management. Second, and more dramatically, vendors such as Meru and Cisco are now releasing next generation Wi-Fi gear based on the draft 802.11n standard. Users can expect to see shared throughput of 150M to 200Mbps to start and well over 300Mbps in premium equipment soon.

"If you look at 11n with 150Mbps and 20 users sharing the access point, they get 7Mbps average throughput," says Paul DeBeasi, senior analyst with Burton Group. "They don't get that in their homes with DSL and cable modems. It's time for people to reset their thinking." DeBeasi tried to do just that by authoring a recent, provocatively titled study "The end of Ethernet?"

Will 802.11n, the next generation high-throughput Wi-Fi, make the RJ-45 connector in the office wall as obsolete as gaslights? That question will start to be answered during the next 12 months as companies make decisions on new or upgraded corporate WLANs.

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