Have you ever thought of having an all wireless office? Do you think it is not possible at this point/ it is not practical? If your answer to that question is yes, then you need to read this article for sure.
Let us look at the reverse situation first: What could possibly be the advantages of wired networks over wireless networks? Well, the immediate points that comes to our mind could be the following:
1. Speed. Wireless networks are considered to be slow and having a low bandwidth.
2. Real time applications. Wireless networks cannot handle real time applications like voice and video.
3. Security. The wireless signals reach even across the road. What if someone hacks in to my network?
4. Incompatibility: Certain devices like printers etc. are not Wi-Fi enabled. The PC does not have Wi-Fi cards.
Let us look at each point individually (I am writing this article in the point of view of an enterprise/office network, and hence I am assuming that the Wi-Fi network is built using Wireless Controllers, Access Points and Management Software)
Wired networks had a decent speed of 100 Mbps and these days have a speed of 1000 Mbps. Wireless networks only have a speed of 54 Mbps and that too is shared among many users.
Give me one application which would take up 1000 Mbps per port, or even 100 Mbps per port and then probably I could accept the above statement. The fact is, even if your office runs demanding applications like multimedia, ERP, video etc, the maximum bandwidth requirement per user may not cross even 4 Mbps! Now take the 54 Mbps of Wi-Fi networks and assume that 15 people are connecting to it, each user may get around 2.5 Mbps, which is sufficient for most of the applications that we have today, and if all the 15 users don’t connect at the same time, a single user might get even more bandwidth. In fact, with the advent of 802.11n standard for Wi-Fi, the bandwidth available per access point is around 300 Mbps and will touch 600 Mbps in the near future. So, even if 15 people connect with one 802.11n access point, they might get in excess of 20 Mbps, which is more than sufficient for most of the applications on the network today.
Real Time Applications:
What if I run PC based video conferencing in my company? Can the wireless networks handle real time traffic?
A decent video conferencing client may not take more than 256-384 Kbps for giving 30 f/s quality video with H.264 compression. How many such conferences are going to happen simultaneously? And real time applications run very well if your wireless controller can support WMM – Wireless Multi Media protocol which prioritize the real time traffic over the normal traffic, and most of the controllers today support it. Even voice is supported on the wireless LAN – including the seamless handover from one AP to another, if you are carrying the VoWLAN handsets. There is an interesting technology that is growing fast, which is called FMC – Fixed Mobile Convergence where your IP Phones and Cell phones can be integrated with a single mobile handset and you have one number for both. Though IP Land line Phones are not supported by Wireless Networks, such innovations (Like FMC and VoWLAN handsets for voice over wireless LAN) help include additional features as well as give the basic service much more efficiently.
The wireless signals can penetrate the walls and in fact go across the road – what if some one hacks my network?
This is a valid concern. The security is compromised if your wireless communications are not encrypted with the latest standards and proper security policies are not applied. But if the security policies are applied according to the latest standards (like 802.11i etc), then the chances of breaking the network from outside is very less. Also, there are Wireless Intrusion prevention software’s that are available in the market these days which keep scanning for wireless threats and intrusions and they notify or even thwart attempts to intrude in to your wireless network automatically.
There are certain devices that are not yet Wi-Fi compatible – like certain printers, fax machines etc. But you will be surprised at how many devices are Wi-Fi compliant and have commercially ready Wi-Fi based products already – Surveillance Cameras, Multi-Function Devices, Access Control Card readers, Laptops, Projectors and almost every network based device has a Wi-Fi compliant model. Even if certain products are not Wi-Fi compliant, cables could be drawn selectively for those applications alone, instead of wiring the whole office with three ports per cubicle! In fact, Wireless Access Points need to be connected to LAN cables at the back end, so a limited number of wired switch ports is anyway required. And there are always USB based Wi-Fi adaptors that can be used to make a desktop computer (PC) wireless.
So, having established that wired networks are not inherently superior to current generation wireless networks, let us now look at the additional advantages that wireless networks provide over wired networks :
Less Cost – Saving not only in the quantity of cables, switch ports required but also in the cost of passive components.
Comfort and Mobility – The wireless networks are accessible anywhere – even in the canteen and the lawn. All you need is a Wi-Fi enabled laptop to access them. And the users can connect to the network from anywhere – cubicles, conference rooms, lawns etc.
Redundancy: If an Access Point fails, another neighbouring access point can automatically connect the users (without having to change the port connection manually like in wired networks).
Network access control, AD integration: The centralized management functionality of the wired networks using Active Directory (or LDAP etc) is available with most of the wireless networks today. In fact, controller based wireless networks can also provide network access control – grouping the users and deciding which users have access to which resources in the network (Restricting certain users from accessing the internet, etc).
Load balancing: The access points can automatically push the users to neighbouring access points if they are overloaded. Some controllers even allow to restrict the bandwidth that a single user/group can access in the LAN, so that they don’t overload the network.
There are many more, but if you want to discuss further on the same or on any particular topic, hop over to our blog. There is a whole category on wireless networks!