The WLAN capacity question


Farpoint Group –

I've previously written on the topic of RF spectrum management (RFSM), which, in a nutshell, is the automation necessary to manage the physical layer of a WLAN system in much the same way as we manage higher-level functions like security and service partitioning. Radio, being a property of the known universe and subject to the complex laws of physics, usually doesn't behave in a uniform manner. Sometimes a radio signal can easily reach its intended destination, but, after only a small change in the configuration of the environment (something as simple as moving a filing cabinet, say), suddenly it can't. This is what drives most wireless network managers (and more than a few users) absolutely crazy -- it's almost as if an element of randomness has been introduced into the otherwise reliable and predictable world of networking, and that is not a bad description of what's really going on. But, just as we deal with dropped calls and "no service" issues on our cell phones (due to lack of coverage or congestion), we put up with these (usually minor) irritations because the overall convenience of wireless is so great. I've gone on record now as saying that the wired LAN connection and (for most business users) the wired telephone connection are both doomed. Wireless will become the default network and voice connection for businesspeople simply because we are indeed coming to rely on the convenience of wireless in our anytime/anywhere lives. And we'll continue to put up with the inconveniences that derive from the laws of physics because the alternative is, in fact, worse.

But there is actually a lot that can be done to improve the overall quality of wireless services. As I've discussed before, we can use RFSM tools to deploy, monitor, and optimize wireless LAN networks (cellular operators employ an analogous set of techniques as well), and we can use dense deployments to increase the overall capacity of a WLAN network. And that's the subject of our latest white paper, which is on the subject of capacity management in wireless LANs. You might think of capacity management (CM) as an extension to RFSM, another layer of higher-level functionality that is ideally suited to today's centralized wireless LAN architectures and implementations. One of the biggest issues is the mitigation of interference, both from other WLAN sources as well as unrelated systems operating in the same spectrum. While interference is a nuisance in most wireless data connections, it can be fatal when we're attempting time-bounded communications, like video and especially voice. I expect voice over IP over Wi-Fi (VoFi) to become a core driver for future WLAN installations, and, as I've written before, it must be in order for us to finally cut the cords to our desktop phones. But we can't do any of this until we can provide toll-quality voice on a Wi-Fi handset, and that's really the place where CM becomes a vital component.

Anyway, rather than tell the whole story here, I'll urge you to have a look at the white paper. I think the core message I want to leave with you for now is that the WLAN industry is thinking and working very hard to make the airwaves behave more like wire -- and that's the fundamental goal of the wireless industry today.

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