With the 802.11 WiFi standard celebrating its 25th birthday this month, it's interesting to look back at how wireless networking has advanced over the years. If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the original heyday of wireless networking, when toting a laptop was pretty progressive and data rates of even 2Mbps were considered impressive. Just the act of accessing the network with no patch cable was exotic, and “the wireless” used to be an accessory to the faster Ethernet network. Needless to say, time has flown.
From the original 802.11 standard, the industry's moved through 802.11b, a/g, n, and now we’re deep into 11ac. We expect data rates in the hundreds of Mbps, and WiFi has become the de facto standard for client access far and wide. Along with the evolution of technology, WiFi also spawned new terminology like wardriving, rogue APs, and pineapples, and the expectation that we should be able to hit the Internet from almost anywhere with a range of devices that none of us could imagine just a few years ago.
We’ve collectively transitioned from an era where WiFi was cool and new to one where we take it largely for granted. Autonomous access points that thought for themselves have given way to thin, controller-based APs and cloud management. Today, it takes more skill to translate complicated requirements into functional WLAN, and client access is now bundled along with a slew of features that used to happen elsewhere on the network.
WiFi has always been about what comes next, both out of the antennas and under the hood. Looking forward, wireless networking has a promising future. WiFi will continue to advance with increasing data rates and antenna counts. At the same time, it’s not all roses for enterprise WLAN architects and managers. WiFi client capabilities are glaringly fragmented between consumer and enterprise devices, and there’s much uncertainty about the sanctity of the spectrum that WiFi relies on.
Let's look at the challenges ahead for WiFi in the enterprise.
Lee is a Wireless Network Architect for a large private university. He has also tought classes on networking, wireless network administration, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronic Warfare systems technician ... View Full Bio