As hard as it may be to predict the future, when it comes to networking technologies, one thing is for sure: The future is wireless!
According to a study by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, by 2019 only 19% of Internet traffic will come from wired devices, while 81% will arise from wireless ones. It follows that these wireless devices (mobile and Wi-Fi only) will account for more than half of all of the IP traffic worldwide. This assumption is backed up by recent research by Strategy Analytics, who state that Wi-Fi capability is already embedded in 57% of all consumer devices sold worldwide.
Through this massive increase in the number of wireless clients, wireless technologies are due to encounter an explosive hunger for ever increasing bandwidths and availability. And while this is true of all wireless technologies in general, analysts at OpenSignal see Wi-Fi as the predominant layer of wireless connectivity—hence, it will be the most strongly affected.
What the all-wireless age needs: Fast wires!
What is worrisome, though, is that many of the people who talk about the future of wireless technologies are viewing the technology in isolation. They talk about new and future Wi-Fi standards as the key remedy to the hunger for bandwidth. But Wi-Fi is not an island! In the light of current and upcoming WLAN implementations, we should not be considering Wi-Fi by itself, as it represents only a portion of the overall network infrastructure. Of vital importance—and the key success factor for the next Wi-Fi era—is the synergy between the components for hardware, software, and management.
With the introduction of 802.11ac, and in particular its Wave 2 variant, we have already entered the all-wireless age. These standards reach bandwidths that are 100-times higher than those achieved by the Wi-Fi standards of just five years ago. Consequently, Wi-Fi speeds could soon be reaching the physical limits supported by the wired components, where a one Gigabit Ethernet LAN infrastructure is simply not able to handle the new Wi-Fi speeds—to say nothing of its WAN capabilities. So the question arises: Why does everybody invest in top-shelf WLAN equipment when the wired network is incapable of fully exploiting its potential in the first place?
That Wi-Fi is placing pressure on the LAN infrastructure is nothing new. It has happened at least twice before. First, the introduction of 802.11a/g triggered the exchange of the 10Base-T switches for Fast-Ethernet devices. Only a couple of years later, the availability of 802.11n equipment demanded new types of cables and GE-switches.
What remains is that, even when the entire (W)LAN infrastructure is well developed, the connectivity towards “the outside world” (the WAN connection) remains a bottle-neck. For example, the market is still awash with standard ADSL customer premises equipment (CPE) offering throughputs of just a few Mbps. Consequently, Wi-Fi users are often frustrated by the lack of Internet speed, and while they almost always blame the WLAN, the root cause actually lies in the CPE and its copper-based landline connection. Although ADSL has increased in speed with SDSL/VDSL “tuning” of the copper lines, it is still far away from the speeds achieved in today’s local area networks. Another factor limiting WAN is the slow roll-out of fiber connections in many western countries, and particularly in Europe.
Still, there are clever ways to squeeze more bandwidth out of the existing lines. One is to use load balancing on multiple WAN connections, and this is a smart answer to today’s problem until we achieve full fiber roll-out. Most enterprise CPE has the capability to convert LAN ports into WAN ports, and even use the embedded WWAN and use multiple entry points to obtain the required bandwidths.
Holistic network management becomes paramount
Apart from the hardware related issues, today’s networks have to deal with mounting challenges from increasing complexity. Simple networks that span just one or a small number of sites are becoming a rarity. On the contrary: Most networks now have to deal with an ever increasing number of users, rights, applications, devices and sites that need to be managed, and this is straining conventional network architectures to breaking point. Compounding the issue are the various new trends and technologies such as Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), BYOD, cloud computing, or (X)aaS, which further add to the growing complexity of today’s networks.
The still widely used strategy of deploying WLAN, LAN and WAN equipment from different vendors and combining it with disparate software management systems for the various device groups simply no longer works. One reason is that traditional management systems often only scratch the surface of the true potential behind professional network configurations. What’s more, they require real expert knowledge for both the network design and its management—and considering the multiple vendor environments, this is a combination that is hard to find.
The future is software-defined
This is where software-defined networking (SDN) comes into play. Unlike conventional network management strategies and tools, SDN allows administrators to easily design, manage and monitor entire networks with just a few clicks of the mouse—if need be, from anywhere in the world. All of the tedious configuring and programming of devices and network rules and policies are automated—catering even for the most complex network scenarios becomes thinkable.
So in the long run, companies that can save costs—and, ultimately, prevail—will be investing in two key areas. One is harmonized network hardware. The other will be a holistic SDN solution that is able to manage the entire network infrastructure—LAN, WLAN and WAN—along with all of the networking components they entail, including gateways, routers, switches and Wi-Fi access points. This is why we at LANCOM have put the entire network at center stage when developing our SDN solution: the LANCOM Management Cloud, the first mature SDN solution—combining SD-LAN, SD-WLAN and SD-WAN—on the market.
So whenever you are planning to upgrade your wireless LAN network to the latest cutting edge technology, don’t forget the rest of the network and its management. Wi-Fi is not an island—and never will be!
PS: Meet us at Wi-Fi NOW Expo & Conference in London (Oct. 25 to 27) to hear more about our idea of Wi-Fi not being an island and the LANCOM Management Cloud. To make an appointment, simply leave a reply in the comments form.
PPS: To learn more about the future of networks and Wi-Fi: https://www.siliconrepublic.com/comms/future-of-networks