April 06, 2001, 12:41 PM — About a year from now, the first high-speed wireless LAN products will hit the market, promising to deliver a data rate of up to 54M bit/sec. That speed should give enterprise net managers plenty of time to assess their net requirements, scope out product plans and address with vendors a range of critical issues such as technical support and software stability.
Net executives face a range of problems - and opportunities - with the faster
radio technology. These include installing many more wireless access points
than today's wireless LANs need, higher power consumption for laptop interface
cards, security, and remote administration and network management.
Enterprise users installing today's IEEE 802.11b wireless LANs, in the 2.4-GHz
band at 11M bit/sec, rattle off a litany of nagging problems that could carry
over into the faster wireless products. Technical support staff are often hard
to reach. Because of small differences in the way vendors implement the standards,
interface cards from one vendor might not work with the access point from another.
Software drivers are flaky or have to be laboriously updated.
That's what one user discovered when evaluating wireless LANs.
"I'd gone in [to our wireless LAN evaluation] thinking that this was an
enterprise-ready technology," says Chris Maers, a network administrator
with CoManage Corp., a Wexford, Pa., vendor of service management software carriers
and ISPs. "But we'd make a call to the support line, and you'd have to
call three or four times, or you'd get forwarded to three or four different
departments to find the right guy."
Maers wouldn't be specific but he says the products he evaluated were from
the major manufacturers in the wireless arena.
Like CoManage, other companies are turning to wireless LANs, even though wireless
throughput still lags far behind faster Ethernet-switched LANs. "There
are three reasons to deploy wireless," says Craig Mathias, a principal
with technology advisory firm FarPoint Group. "You can't install wire,
for whatever reason. Wireless is cheaper over a given time. Or you need mobility."
In some cases, bandwidth-hungry applications such as video might be the main
attraction for high-speed wireless, but most analysts seem to think that if
an enterprise customers choose wireless, they want the fastest wireless LAN
possible. "Speed is what is really driving this market," says Gemma
Paulo, wireless industry analyst with Cahners In-Stat. "People just want
fast speed overall."
Many LAN equipment vendors are scrambling to satisfy that need.