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Mailbag: Wireless vs. wired

Sep 16, 20033 mins

* Readers weigh in on future of wireless LANs

Recently, I mentioned that wireless LAN capabilities are becoming integral to LAN deployments as a whole. I speculated that perhaps wireless LANs would become the preferred method of connecting to a network – at some point superseding cabling options. You had mixed reactions.

However, most who responded pointed to persistent obstacles – bandwidth, security and interference.

One thing I didn’t mention about the bandwidth available through WLANs is that it’s shared – so many of you pointed that out to me. That 54M bit/sec available through IEEE 802.11a sounds great until you realize that each workstation has to share that bandwidth.

Here’s one reader’s reaction:

“While you make some interesting points I think you are overstating WLANs role. 56M bit/sec IS probably fast enough for most people, but remember this is shared medium, NOT per user. Don’t get me wrong, WLANs are great, I use them frequently, but it’s still quite a ways off to think we won’t be tethered to the LAN.”

And another reader says the size of your bandwidth does matter:

“While there isn’t a big push or need for gigabit to the desktop most users can tell the difference between performance at 10M bit/sec vs. 100M bit/sec and will obviously prefer the latter. Desktop and laptop systems come with 100M standard and many will soon have gig. If you are going to get it anyway on your workstation, why settle for 54M bit/sec?”

Some argued that problems could be overcome. As one reader wrote: “The vendors will solve/minimize the problems we see currently. Their success and even survival are at stake.”

But in the next breath, a caveat:

“The growth will not be very fast in traditional office environments. Most already have substantial wired infrastructure and will hang onto that for a long time. This has already hurt the vendors like Cisco, Nortel, et al, who are not convincing many people of a need to upgrade existing network hardware. Best chances for growth are probably in newly built offices, niches in offices such as conference/training rooms, schools, and home.”

This reader saw a specific application for wires:

“The most powerful argument for copper connections in the future will be power over Ethernet, and I believe it will be this combination of wired and wireless that drives our industry very soon.”

Interestingly, at least a couple of readers were inspired by my musings to extrapolate further:

“What if the IEEE folks would pick up the emerging Ultra WideBand (UWB) technology and define yet another physical layer for good old Ethernet? They did it before with 10M, 100M, 1,000M and 10,000M bit/sec interfaces over coax, copper and fiber-optic media. So why not extend that success story with some wireless chapters?”

And I’d like to close with this reader’s thoughts on WLANs, the universe, and everything:

“Thinking about the evolution of wire to wireless I am reminded of the greater communication network of the Universe. All objects (including humans) communicate via wired medium within themselves, and via wireless medium to other objects. 

“From speech, body language and impressions, to gravity, strong & weak nuclear forces and electromagnetic force, the infinite capacity of wireless communication medium of our Universe drives the process of Life…

“Therefore going wireless is not an option, it is the destiny.”

Big thanks to everyone who took the time to write in.