March 1, 2010

2009 Wireless LAN State-of-the-Market Report

  • NEW: Special Audiocast on Wi-Fi Reliability with Analyst Joanie Wexler and G.T. Hill, Ruckus Wireless
  • REPORT: Wi-Fi Now Synonymous with 802.11n
  • Webtorials Editorial/Analyst Division
  • Joanie Wexler, Lead Analyst
Survey respondents cited "reliability" as the Wi-Fi attribute they value the most. Yet relatively few said they were "extremely satisfied" with Wi-Fi reliability levels to date. In this audiocast, lead analyst Joanie Wexler and G.T. Hill, director of technical marketing at report sponsor Ruckus Wireless, examine the reasons for this disparity and discuss the technologies, tools and strategies likely to boost Wi-Fi onto a par with wired Ethernet.

In October and November 2009, the Webtorials Editorial/Analyst Division surveyed the Webtorials subscriber base for the sixth consecutive year concerning enterprise wireless LAN (WLAN) deployment plans, attitudes and experiences. 

Many of the trends revealed by this year's study relate to 802.11n, the IEEE WLAN standard amendment that was finally ratified in September 2009 after seven years in the making. Now that 802.11n is a formal standard, new enterprise investments in older 802.11a/b/g technologies will drop off. The reason is that 802.11n is backward compatible with those networks and offers up to nearly six times the throughput of the earlier technologies, depending on implementation and the client device(s) used. In addition, some enterprise-class 802.11n access points (APs) have come onto the market in the $600-$800 price range delivering 802.11n benefits at 802.11g prices. Going forward, then, Wi-Fi is synonymous with 802.11n until 802.11n is usurped by something bigger and better.

Key findings of the survey include:
  • The recent ratification of the 802.11n standard will drive Wi-Fi deployment expansions. The majority of respondents (60%) said they would expand their wireless LAN as a result of the ratification of 802.11n. Their primary interest in 802.11n is - and remains, year over year - a close race between needing additional wireless capacity to accommodate increasing network data loads and to accommodate new voice over IP (VoIP) traffic loads on the network.
  • "All-wireless" networks are far from mainstream. Those who said they would expand their wireless LANs did so with the caveat that they are not moving to an "all-wireless" network in their foreseeable futures. Rather, they said they would always keep some wired access infrastructure in place.
  • Enterprises are unsure about which optional 802.11n-standard features they need. A whopping 43% said they simply "don't know" which of the optional 802.11n-standard features they will require in the new WLAN products they buy. This is probably because they don't understand them well yet, as these features have largely taken a back seat in pre-standard 802.11n discussions. The reduced-overhead efficiencies of packet aggregation seemed best understood, with 26% of respondents saying they would require that feature option.
  • Enterprises are open to embracing new architectures, particularly mesh. Most respondents (60%) are using and plan to continue using thin (dependent) APs with a centralized controller for the immediate future. Still, enterprises seem open to considering alternative and/or complementary architectures, with nearly a third, for example, planning to use Wi-Fi mesh with or without controllers. All told, 77% of respondents said that mesh capabilities are essential, very important or somewhat important.
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1 Comment

Always a high point of our yearly content, this paper, prepared by our Editorial/Analyst Division and featuring industry expert Joanie Wexler as the primary analyst, provides highlights of the findings in this sixth annual report. As such, it is a continuation of our briefings and in-depth analyses on topics that we feel are critical to the future of your network and IT infrastructure and operation.

I encourage you both to download the information (as usual) and also to participate in an active discussion of the findings.

Many thanks to our community members who played an integral role in the data-gathering process, and please note that this State-of-the Market Report is made possible in part due to the generous support of Ruckus Wireless.

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