June 20, 2011, 9:23 AM — Carnegie Mellon University, which saw 1,000 brand-new Wi-Fi clients appear on its campus wireless LAN this past semester, is experiencing the kind of device surge that's forcing IT groups all over to adapt to a new, more dynamic radio environment.
IDC reports that twice as many smartphones and tablets, nearly all with Wi-Fi, will ship compared to laptops this year. The number of Wi-Fi certified handsets in 2010 was almost 10 times the number certified in 2007, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. Tablets, e-readers and portable audio devices are helping to drive this growth.
The result is a very different wireless environment in terms of radio behaviors, Wi-Fi implementations, applications, usage and traffic compared to just a year or two ago. This raises a different set of issues from simply managing these mobile devices with tools from vendors like MobileIron and Zenprise.
BACKGROUND: Major Wi-Fi changes ahead
One complex result is that Wi-Fi infrastructures have to become more sensitive to mobile Wi-Fi clients. That's not easy because the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard puts the client in charge of connections, the opposite of a cellular network where the infrastructure takes charge of the client's behavior. (This is changing with new IEEE standards and clever vendor engineering. See "Major Wi-Fi changes ahead.")
It's also increasingly common for users to have two -- or more -- Wi-Fi devices, such as a laptop and smartphone, and to use them both at once.
In a typical week this past spring at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, network statistics showed about 22,000 unique users. About 14,000, or two-thirds of the total, had only one MAC address, indicating a single client. That means roughly one-third of the users had two or more MAC addresses; nearly 5,400 had two, and just over 1,000 had three, according to Craig Simons, a manager with the school's network operations group.