SAN DIEGO -- According to a speaker at the 2005 Burton Group Catalyst Conference, despite the security and management fears associated with enterprise wireless LANs, products based on the IEEE's 802.11 standards are now mature enough to be widely deployed.
William Terrill, senior analyst with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, told attendees that not only is standardization curing issues -- such as quality of service (QoS), management and coverage -- that plagued early WLANs, it is also reducing software and hardware costs.
The WLAN market, Terrill said, hit a watershed point in January 2005 when Cisco Systems Inc. purchased Airespace Inc., a WLAN switch startup specializing in "thin" or centrally managed access points.
"Airespace created the WLAN space and made it popular, and that was really hurting Cisco," he said. "[Cisco's acquisition of Airespace] validated this space and really [challenged] their competitors."
Terrill said the forces now driving enterprise WLAN growth include lower cost of deployment versus wired LANs, declining equipment costs, standards maturity, user mobility, the potential for improved productivity and new demanding applications like voice over WLAN (VoWLAN).
Attendee Brian Wert, director of network services for a Connecticut-based financial services company, said his company is looking into implementing a WLAN for the mobility benefits. VoWLAN is an interesting aspect of WLAN deployment, he said, but it's not quite ready for widespread use.
Terrill suggested enterprises use equipment based on 802.11a -- the standard that operates in the 5.7-5.8 GHz range and enables speed of up to 54 Mbps -- as it offers up to 24 channels, rather than 802.11b or 802.11g only providing three non-interfering channels.
As for security, Terrill suggested companies use the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)'s 802.11i WLAN security standard, which incorporates the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption algorithm and the 802.1x authentication framework, allows continued support for the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security standard and locks down RF communications.
Wert said these new 802.11i security enhancements were the most intriguing of all the WLAN market developments discussed.
Terrill said the WLAN future holds several new standards enhancements. He said the IEEE is still in "fist-fight stage" over 802.11n, the anticipated predecessor to 802.11a/g that will increase throughput and offer backward compatibility. But he predicted 802.11n won't be finalized until late 2006 or 2007, meaning products won't be released until shortly thereafter.
Other IEEE standards in the works include 802.11r for fast roaming, 802.11s for mesh networking and 802.11v for wireless network management.
However, Terrill warned users to not get too anxious for these products based on pre-standard specifications because they offer no guarantee of compatibility or upgradeability.