by Patrick McLaughlin
Not long ago, I read Stephen King’s Cell. It’s a white-knuckle, 500-page answer to a question that only King would ask: “What would happen if the use of our cell phones made us all crazy—really,really crazy?” In an apocalyptic scene early in the story, a man bites a dog soon after receiving a call on his cell, living up to the adage that a dog biting a man is not particularly noteworthy, but a man biting a dog is.
Recently, it occurred to me that we as an industry may be approaching a man-bites-dog moment, thanks to the use of wireless technology. In our case, the wireless technology is the “still-under-development-but-already-being-deployed” 802.11n WLAN. Our article on page 33 highlights a couple of recent announcements of 802.11n deployment at universities. A separate article (pg. 21) explains the central role 802.11n’s multiple-input/multiple-output signaling is playing in the development of the Power over Ethernet Plus specifications.
802.11n proponents use numbers like 300 and 600, as in Mbits/sec,to characterize the protocol’s throughput capability. And Cisco, the undisputed heavyweight champion of all things networking, says that real-world testing has shown consistent WLAN performance right around 130 Mbits/sec.
Even that more-modest throughput figure puts 802.11n transmission speeds higher than Fast Ethernet. As a practical matter, that means a great deal of the nodes in today’s wired Ethernet networks could not support the fastest wireless technology currently available. In some instances, the wired network represents the bottleneck for signals that more freely flow through the wireless network. Ergo, a man has bitten a dog.
Somebody asked me if I think we’re getting close to a time when wireless takes over local area networking altogether. I said no—not because as editor of this publication my livelihood depends on the continued wiring of networks—but rather, because we consumers have come to accept a much lower level of connectivity and performance from wireless voice services than we ever would accept from our wired voice services. And we simply will not tolerate such a disparityin an enterprise environment.
The promise of 802.11n could eventually make that argument moot. By the time that happens, though, I hope someone has developed a laptop battery that lasts more than 90 minutes. As things stand today, I’m pretty much chained to an AC outlet whenever I use my wireless-capable laptop. And where there’s an AC outlet, there’s also a Fast Ethernet port within reach. For those of us who haven’t adopted 802.11n, that 100-Mbit/sec wired connection is the faster and more reliable option.
At least for now.