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The future of WiFi: gigabit speeds and beyond
Now that 802.11n has been officially ratified, attention is turning to the next big thing in wireless networking: gigabit WiFi. Ars explores the future of WiFi and how it may give gigabit Ethernet a run for its money.
By Glenn Fleishman
In a couple of years, crossing the 1Gbps threshold with a WiFi access point will be routine. That access point will likely have two radios, one for each major spectrum band, and support a host of older flavors for compatibility. Eventually, WiFi will approach the robustness and speed needed to make it a completely viable replacement for Ethernet for most users.
In today's pipeline are optional enhancements to 802.11n that have been in the works since the standard stabilized at the IEEE engineering group nearly three years ago. These enhancements will increase range and performance by up to a couple orders of magnitude, offering raw data rates of 450 Mbps and 600 Mbps.
The slated improvements will also correct for black holes, where current 802.11n gear's signals don't reach unless an excessive amount of overlapping devices are installed at relatively high expense. Even better, the boosts to 802.11n are just the start. A new IEEE committee is working on fast WiFi that will hit a raw encoding rate of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).
All these higher speeds will be eminently affordable and reasonable choices for small-to-medium-sized businesses. It may even be possible to achieve higher performance (both for speed and network consistency) by spending less than a network upgrade would cost today: fewer, more powerful access points with better coverage may wind up saving money.
The need isn't always for speed: it may be better to have a network that works in the worst circumstances, with tons of users moving lots of data, than to move additional raw data. With the popularity of watching video (for business purposes, no less), the growth in the size of standard document files, continuous network backups, and other network loads, network capacity, quality, and support for simultaneous users and heavy-load applications will become increasingly important.
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