April 15, 2005, 11:54 AM — You are probably wondering at this point why I've spent so much time in recent months on advances in wireless LANs. Well, first of all, the LAN is the most important and influential model for information systems ever developed. The Internet today, for example, is in effect one big LAN -- even though this is one LAN that isn't all that local! Wireless LANs are also LANs, and can do everything that wired LANs can do, but without the physical constraints of being tethered to the wall. And I believe that the wireless LAN will essentially replace the wired LAN for most enterprise professionals and residential users over the next five years. I've never known, by the way, anyone to try wireless and then go back to wire. And this includes ten years ago, pre-Wi-Fi, and pre-Windows 95, when getting any network (let alone wireless) to in fact work required divine intervention and a note from your mother.
Despite amazing progress since then, even I will admit that the pace of innovation in wireless LANs is continuing at an astonishing level. Some time ago, I introduced you to the concept of dense deployments, which involves overprovisioning a WLAN deployment in the interest of improving capacity and reliability. This led to a number of questions about just how dense dense should be, and I will return to this topic in my next column. But, for the moment, suppose we took, say, 16 access points and put them all in one box, along with a switch. Do the math -- that's 864 Mbps of capacity in a single location. Now add directional antennas that divide all of this capacity around a circle, network management, remote power -- and the questions start to roll in. Just what the heck might this be?