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Organizations looking to purchase 802.11 wireless technology can face a confusing array of choices. Discussion during the recent NOREX Wireless Strategies WebForum shed some light on the issue.

Topic: Wireless standards and trends

Moderator: Our next topic was submitted by Bernice who is asking about next-generation technology in wireless. Bernice, were you interested in standards or devices, or what are you looking for?

Bernice G.: I am looking for standards and devices. We are in education, and unfortunately, we have to try to plan a few years out, which is really impossible with technology. So, we are looking at doing a wireless assessment and purchasing some new technology.

Moderator: Is anybody well-versed in all the different wireless standards...N and G, etc.?

Matt W.: Well, wireless G is probably the most common currently, so all current technology is pretty much supported by G. Your cellphone supports G. Your five year old TV would support G. In the next few years, N is going to be the most prolific. Most modern, new devices would support N. Most of the business technology going forward is going to support N. I could not tell you what comes after that, because there are too many competing technologies, and until one really becomes the standard, then it is more of a vendor lock-in problem.

So, to my knowledge, N is the thing that you would want to aim for. N supports two bands, however. The original wireless protocols were A and B. A is on a 5 GHz range, and B is on a 2.4 GHz range. The G was actually the successor to B, and that was also the 2.4 GHz. N is really a multi-channel of both, so N is both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz.

In order to be faster, which is what N is, it basically combines the two, but it also does multi-in multi-out, called MIMO, and what that means is that, instead of just one G connection, it is creating multiple G connections. That is how it obtains faster speeds.

So, N is what you would want to aim toward supporting if you are going to deploy it. You know, if you were going to start tomorrow deploying, you would want to make sure it supported N.

Moderator: That is doable right now?

Matt W.: Yes. Most technology is available right now with N, and that should be the standard, I would say, for probably about five years.

Moderator: What does that mean if you are G now going to N? A total re-do?

Matt W.: No, no. See, that is the thing. Since they are all the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz range, it is all backwards compatible. So, even a wireless B device or G or A are all going to work on an N network. So, if you deploy N today, anything capable of N will use it. Everything else will use the G, because it is still the same frequencies and the same speeds.

The only thing that N adds is multiple connections at the same time via one device. So, if you go with N, it will work on all G devices, so all our cell phones, all your computers, all that will work on N as-is.

Shawn M.: I agree that N is probably where you want to shoot for if you are purchasing wireless today. If you are looking out for a few years, AC is the next standard after N. As you mentioned, the MIMO spatial streams and all that, with this new 802.11ac, you are going to have additional spatial streams. It is actually going to get you up into the gigabit speeds for wireless.

The problem is, there is nobody really out there supporting it yet. Buffalo, a consumer grade device, is the only one that I think has an AC access point out there. But, all the big vendors are definitely planning for some type of support probably in the next year, but I still think that that is probably a year or two out before it really starts coming on. I would still shoot definitely for N at this point.

Moderator: Is that what you guys are leaning towards, N?

Shawn M.: Definitely. A lot of things are, you know, we are going to make our purchase probably later in the year, so we do want to know what our options are for going AC, because it gets you those higher speeds, and it definitely gives you some improved--well, it helps with the interference as well. That is actually going to be at the 5 GHz band.

As he mentioned before, 802.11a is 5 GHz. Well, with the 802.11ac, it is going to be 5 GHz only as well, so it is going to help with interference and things like that. So, you know, there is no real device that is out there that supports AC yet, but it will probably be coming in the next year or two.

Moderator: Shawn, you mentioned earlier that you are evaluating, and that you have got the big decision coming up. What are the decision points? What are the main factors that you are looking at?

Shawn M.: Well, with wireless, it is really about bring your own device, the BYOD that everybody is talking about. You know, that is really kind of pushing us in that direction, more and more people bringing in the iDevices, meaning the iPads and iPhones, and even Android tablets and phones, and they want to save on their data plan, or they cannot get any kind of access, because it is just a Wi-Fi only device.

So, that is really kind of what is pushing us towards wireless at thing point. But, we are still kind of in that research phase, gathering requirements and things like that.

Moderator: OK. Thanks for sharing that. Thanks, Matt, that is good info on G and N. Bernice, does this help?

Bernice: Yes, it was very helpful. Thank you.

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