The latest Wi-Fi standard, IEEE 802.11n, offers business opportunities for value-added resellers (VARs), consultants and systems integrators. While the current 802.11g standard provides a maximum rate of 54 Mbps, 802.11n test sites have measured rates above 100 Mbps. 802.11n achieves these rates through the use of Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) radio technology. The standard enables new applications due to its much higher data rate and greater range compared to the current standard, thus creating new business opportunities for all channel partners.
Although the standard is not yet final, equipment based on Draft 2 has been available since mid-2007 and large scale deployments have begun. The final standard is expected in 2008, but no hardware changes from the current draft are expected. Any changes will be incorporated in software and downloaded to currently shipping products.
Customers upgrading to 802.11n will need to replace their existing access points (APs) and wireless switches (which can't handle the higher data rates), offering VARs an the opportunity to sell new equipment. The 100 Mbit Ethernet links from existing APs will no longer be adequate, forcing an upgrade to wired switches with 1 Gbit interfaces.
Laptops with built-in 802.11n interfaces are now available, but customers with the current 802.11g interface laptops can take advantage of 802.11n by adding PC cards. Most 802.11n access points contain a separate radio to support 802.11g, but these users will receive no benefit from the increased data rate.
The greatly increased data rate enables applications such as wireless VoIP and wireless video, which require a host of new servers and software. To take advantage of these applications, customers will need to purchase software designed for voice and video and test tools to monitor and manage these applications. Wireless voice places specific requirements on the security infrastructure, allowing for business opportunities in security services as well.
IEEE 802.11n offers multiple opportunities to consultants and systems integrators. The first step is a detailed discussion with the customer about how the new technology will be utilized. MIMO radio technology uses multiple antennas to achieve greater range, allowing signals to bounce off obstacles. Therefore the optimum location of APs is often not the same as it was for 802.11g. Choosing the right spots requires a thorough examination of the environment using specialized skills, equipment and analysis software.
IEEE 802.11n can operate on either the 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz band. The 5.0 GHz band is often used since there is less interference in this band, whereas the 2.4 GHz band is reserved to support older equipment. Both bands require periodic scanning to identify sources of interference. Integrators or consultants can return regularly to perform the scan or train customer staff to do so.
Even if your customers are not adopting 802.11n, it's still a good idea to scan the 5.0 GHz band to identify rogue APs introduced to the network by employees. New laptops will come with 802.11n support whether there is a plan to utilize it or not, so the scan must now be widened to 5.0 GHz to detect private 802.11n APs.
Adding voice or video will require a careful analysis of the entire network, examining each link to ensure that sufficient bandwidth is available and reconfiguring routers and switches as needed. If voice is to be added, security requirements must be analyzed. In addition to new software and hardware, it will be necessary to modify and document processes and procedures and train staff to use them.
About the author
David B. Jacobs of The Jacobs Group has more than 20 years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software startups. .