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Convergence on solutions to boost wireless LAN deployment

Would you elaborate on your last comment in your 2003 predictions where you say, "Watch for industry convergence on solutions to boost wireless LAN deployment in the enterprise during the second half of the year." View Lisa's 2003 predictions here.
Several standards-based enhancements are now beginning to emerge in 802.11 products. This has the potential to promote enterprise deployment by providing much-needed functionality -- for example, tighter access control, more scalable management, higher-density coverage areas, seamless migration from the installed base to faster WLANs, and higher bandwidth to support quality audio/video over wireless. These features will help to erase limitations that otherwise impede broad deployment in large enterprise networks.

On the other hand, enhancements can also destabilize what is currently a broadly interoperable and homogenous base. For example, when a company deploys 802.11a to increase density, how do they avoid cutting off their installed 802.11b base? Dual-mode APs sound great, but what if a and b radios yield different footprints? Treating 802.11a as a single-mode overlay to 802.11b is another alternative -- but will 802.11a products persist when 802.11g comes along? Until new products are Wi-Fi certified, how can we be confident that 802.11a or g radios will interoperate in multi-vendor WLANs? Should we take advantage of vendor-specific Turbo modes or avoid them? Which flavor of integrated WLAN chips will ship with laptops six months from now? A year from now?

Open questions like these make it challenging for enterprises to future-proof investment in WLAN infrastructure. Industry convergence on a smaller set of broadly supported increments will help to eliminate that uncertainty. For example, certification of dual-mode 802.11a/b products (starting now) can neutralize interoperability fears. Rapid implementation and certification of 802.11a/g products (next year?) would do this even better. Firmware upgrades that implement Wi-Fi Protected Access (2Q03) will lay to rest most older concerns about privacy and scalable key management. Broad OS support for 802.1X (starting now) and 2 or 3 clearly differentiated, standard authentication methods (next year?) would create a ubiquitous platform to lock down WLAN access.

Certainly these upgrades will not address all enterprise concerns. 802.11 standards will continue to evolve and products will continue to mature. But when will this rapidly boiling stew settle down enough for enterprises to start consuming larger servings? My guess is that this 'tipping point' will be reached during the second half of 2003.

View Lisa Phifer's 2003 predictions here.

This was last published in January 2003

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