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802.11g slowdown tacked, but does it matter?

Wireless LAN start-up Meru Networks announced a new feature that enables 802.11g traffic to move at regular speeds on wireless LAN networks with mixed traffic, but few need the added speed.

Meru Networks Inc., a wireless LAN (WLAN) startup in Sunnyvale, Calif., recently announced a feature that accelerates the speed of 802.11g traffic on networks with mixed traffic. While 802.11g traffic usually slows considerably when 802.11b devices access the network, some said Meru is fixing a problem that no one is complaining about.


Wireless LANs: Is more speed needed?


802.11g not yet ratified, but early reports promising

Founded in 2002, Meru is a late comer to the competitive and growing WLAN market. The company has developed a system that allows a higher level of traffic management on WLAN networking. In addition to speeding up 802.11g traffic, the company's system helps prioritize voice traffic and improve quality of service.

With this announcement, Meru is attacking a problem that occurs when 802.11b clients log onto an 802.11g network. The latter network allows higher speed connections -- 54 Mbps compared with 11 Mbps for 802.11b networks. However, when an 802.11b client logs onto an 802.11g network, the g traffic must be slowed to accommodate the older and slower client.

The actual speed of wireless traffic is slower than the advertised rated. 802.11b traffic on the wireless network moves at about 6 Mbps. When 802.11g traffic is alone on the network, it moves at about 22 Mbps. However, when 802.11b traffic gets on the g network, the 802.11g traffic slows to between 9 Mbps and 14 Mbps.

If you are using regular applications, surfing the Web and doing e-mail, the slowdown is not noticeable. It is not about quantity, it is about quality.
Philippe Hanset
Network architectUniversity of Tennessee

Meru's system essentially masks the 802.11b and 802.11g traffic from each other so the network is unaware that it is juggling mixed traffic, said Joel Vincent, senior product marketing manager with Meru. Therefore, there is no slowdown.

"This approach is gaining momentum," Vincent said.

But some are skeptical of the need for added speed on the networks.

Security, not speed, is the principal need

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has recently upgraded its 1,200-access-point WLAN network to 802.11g. But the primary reasons were not speed. Philippe Hanset, network architect at the university, said by upgrading the Proxim access points in his system, he can now use 802.11i security, including the better advanced encryption standard (AES) encryption, and can detect rogue access points.

The increased speed of the 802.11g network is just an extra benefit, Hanset said.

While the university is using incentives to try to upgrade students to 802.11g wireless cards, Hanset said it is not concerned about the slowdown of g traffic when mixed traffic is present on the network.

"If you are using regular applications, surfing the Web and doing e-mail, the slowdown is not noticeable," he said. "It is not about quantity, it is about quality."

Craig Mathias, a principal with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm Farpoint Group, agrees.

"Most users will not notice the difference," he said.

How do you like your speed? Rare

The function has value when users are accessing more bandwidth intensive applications and uses, said Mike Disabato, service director with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group. However, those instances are rare.

"If all you are doing is collecting e-mail and printing, then you won't run out of bandwidth," Disabato said. "But if you strip the copper out of your building and are using Wi-Fi exclusively to do backups, oh yeah, you'll notice," he said.

Vincent said many customers have not yet deployed the relatively new 802.11 g network and those that have may not be using it to the extent where users will see the problems.

"It's the chicken-and-egg thing," he said.

Andy Segal, CEO of Vandis, an Albertson, N.Y.-based reseller of Meru's products, said his customers are concerned about the slowdown of 802.11g traffic, particularly as they deploy wireless networks for sensitive applications such as voice and high bandwidth video.

But Hanset already has begun using high bandwidth video over WLAN in certain classrooms. He said he has addressed bandwidth problems by using a 802.11a network in those spots. Not only does 802.11a offer the same high speeds that a pure g environment will offer, but it has the benefit of operating in the 5 GHz spectrum, which has much less interference than 802.11b and runs in the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Disabato also said this problem of mixed traffic on networks will be short lived. In the next six to 12 months, 802.11b cards will disappear from the market. "You won't see that anyone is running anything but 802.11g in the next two years," he said.

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