Should you deploy 802.11n in 2008? Part 1

* Industry debates whether next-generation WLAN is ready for prime time

Some folks agreed with me and others didn't over a newsletter I wrote earlier this month suggesting that most enterprises wait to deploy 802.11n on a large scale until both product advances and standards are a bit more settled. It seemed fair to also air the opinions of a couple of Wi-Fi suppliers in response.

Today, Chris Kozup, Cisco senior manager, mobility solutions, explains why the WLAN market share leader believes 802.11n is ready for prime time now. In the next newsletter, Nortel will take its turn at the podium, with a more conservative view.

According to Cisco’s Kozup:

The debate over the readiness of 802.11n and whether businesses should adopt or wait is nothing new. Remember when Ethernet was too unpredictable to displace ATM? IP VPNs too unreliable for critical business data? The adoption rate of new technologies is commensurate with the benefits they deliver. 802.11n offers significant performance improvements over existing standards. Still, for most, the benefits must be evaluated in combination with longevity. In other words, few want to deploy a technology that may soon be obsolete – no matter how great the benefit.

802.11n can deliver both performance and longevity. Illustrating market support, the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified over 180 products as 802.11n draft 2.0. Still, the draft status of the standard continues to beg the question of whether the technology is ready. The definition of “standard” includes consistency and interoperability – which are more a function of Wi-Fi certification than IEEE specification. Consider briefly the relationship of the original 802.11b to Wi-Fi, 802.11i to WPA2 and 802.11e to WMM. Businesses don’t deploy an IEEE specification; rather, a standard that guarantees interoperability. The same rings true for 802.11n. While not yet ratified, the 802.11n draft 2.0 has already become a de facto standard thanks to Wi-Fi certification and product development momentum.

Cisco customers are putting this new technology to work today. A large apparel retailer is improving the quality of its warehouse voice-over-wireless implementation by deploying 802.11n. MIMO has improved the call quality of the company’s Cisco wireless IP phones by increasing network reliability and coverage predictability. A large U.S. hospital is deploying 802.11n to ensure consistent connectivity for synchronous patient care applications deployed to mobile computer carts. Without 802.11n, mobile carts were losing connectivity due to coverage holes caused by interference and multipath. Finally, Duke and Western Michigan universities are…deploying 802.11n across campus to support a growing diversity of client devices.

Technology shifts are gradual events that generally take years. With the Wi-Fi Alliance assuring longevity, the adoption timeframes should be determined purely on business need. Assured of investment protection and the performance required for the truly mobile experience, businesses can adopt 802.11n with confidence today.

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