Is Your WLAN Costing You Money?

M. Spanbauer
M. Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • Bring your own device phenomenon challenging WLAN bandwidth
  • Networks architected for 802.11a/b/g may be limiting worker productivity and therefore efficiency

A satisfied, network-connected worker is a valuable resource in practically any industry.  This has been the reality since wireless LAN (WLAN) technology, or indeed any network technology, was first brought to market.  Over time, the network service quality improved based on technology advancements, client end-point support grew and ultimately worker productivity increased.  However, this didn’t just happen overnight. The IT department worked hard to deploy 802.11a, then 11.b/g and now 802.11n networks to provide this powerful productivity tool.  Those in IT also know how painful it was behind the scenes with early management tools, intermittent radio noise reducing performance, security concerns and interoperability between client radios and access point radios.

Fast forward to today and there’s client devices, such as phones with multi-core processors, tablets with four core processors and a plethora of other devices coming to the network every day.  All of these new devices are WLAN enabled and are capable of consuming many megabits each.  Coupled with media rich, bandwidth intensive applications such as video conferencing, these devices can truly tax a WLAN system.  In order to keep up with demand, more APs are needed, which drives configuration challenges, security issues and ultimately bandwidth on the network itself.

This in turn leads us to an item that is sometimes overlooked, the wired architecture interconnecting the very WLAN system itself.  Whether controller based, or “controller-less” access points are attached to the network with a wired cable at some point.  With modern access points supporting up to three radios with each radio consuming up to 300 Mbps of bandwidth, provisioning a 1 Gbps link per AP is a good rule of thumb.  This in turn requires that the switch uplinks support more than 1 Gbps in uplinks or it may be a bottleneck as traffic increases.  This issue is more prevalent with some WLAN systems that route all traffic back a central controller before allowing the WLAN traffic to access the wired network versus others that possess the ability to allow traffic onto the wired network directly at the access point.  In any case, from this point forward, the WLAN will be a consideration of the enterprise wired LAN architecture due to increased dependence and performance needs.  Certain vertical enterprises have already experienced this pain, with others sure to follow. With 802.11ac already being worked on within the standards body, promising well over 1 Gbps per client capacity sometime in 2013-2014, this challenge will only compound.

The bottom line is that deploying WLAN access points without regard to the wired performance may lead to bottlenecks in the network.  If there are performance limits and the technology limits potential worker productivity, then it in turn is costing the business money and should be on the upgrade project list (which never seems to shrink).

What do you think?

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