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Deluge of devices drives high-density wireless network design

As the number of mobile devices that users carry multiplies, networking pros must factor device density into their wireless network designs.

There's something especially agonizing about slow Wi-Fi at an IT conference.

When you're on the trade-show floor and surrounded by vendors demoing ridiculously fast networking gear, there is a sad irony in watching your smartphone browser time out on the conference's wireless network. But in reality, it shouldn't be that surprising. Performance problems are always going to be a struggle when a wireless network must support hundreds or thousands of people in a relatively small space.

When the conference Wi-Fi is subpar, you can count on plenty of people making snide comments on Twitter. Others will just roll their eyes, take it as a referendum on the conference as a whole and tell their colleagues not to bother attending next year. Some, like me, stow away in an empty meeting room or some other behind-the-curtain area in hopes of nabbing a less-congested access point. In any of these scenarios, the event organizers are not happy. And when the event organizers are not happy, you can guarantee their IT support staff is going to hear about it.

But if you're among the majority of networking pros, I know what you're thinking: You're not designing and managing wireless networks for massive venues like convention centers, sports stadiums or even airports. You set up wireless LANs in normal places like office buildings, schools, warehouses or doctors' offices. You might even be running a larger wireless network for a university or hospital, but that still isn't at the scale for which those other people have to design.

While that might have been true five years ago, the picture today looks very different. As of last year, the average person carries around three mobile devices, according to an informal poll by Sophos Labs. And the number of mobile devices is on track to exceed the human population by the end of this year, according to a Cisco Systems report. Although those devices may not all make their way into the workplace, one thing is clear: Even if you have a relatively small number of users, the number of wireless devices they carry is multiplying. That means high-density wireless LAN designs are going to be a much bigger deal, regardless of whether you work at a large enterprise or a small business.

In this issue of Network Evolution, SearchNetworking site editor Chuck Moozakis dives into the scalability demands of high-density wireless ("As demands and devices multiply, high-density wireless gains traction"), as well as how several organizations -- including Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots -- are tackling those challenges (pardon the pun).

We also check in on the future of MPLS and the viability of replacing it with basic Internet at the branch ("MPLS networks not obsolete, but Internet as WAN catches up"), and veteran tech journalist Antone Gonsalves looks into whether Microsoft has turned the unified communications and collaboration market upside down since the release of Lync 2013 ("Lync voice capabilities mature, but can they replace PBXs?"). And finally, in this edition of The Subnet, we catch up with one networking pro who thinks routers are becoming obsolete ("Why not replace routers with smart switches?").

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an indignant tweet to send out about this lousy Wi-Fi.

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This was last published in June 2014

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