With the end of the year upon us, let’s take a look back at some of the more important Wi-Fi industry developments that occurred in 2010. These trends set the tone for the year and kept many industry professionals busy and employed through the economic hardships.
Wi-Fi industry trends are direct byproducts of cultural shifts in how we as a society prefer to work, play, and live as a whole, and provide a view into the fabric of our daily lives. As an IT professional I am excited about the technology and services we enable, but on a macro level as member of a broader community I am intrigued about how different our daily lives are than our parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Change truly is a remarkable thing!
Important Wi-Fi trends from 2010:
- Large Scale Enterprise 802.11n Adoption - early adopters began deploying 802.11n in 2009, but 2010 will undoubtedly be the year of 11n. Large enterprises wrapped up interoperability and performance testing, formalized best practices and network design, and began deploying very large 802.11n access point roll-outs in 2010. In 2011, look for 3 spatial stream 802.11n to begin shipping in enterprise-class equipment, bring data rates of 450 Mbps (raw). Also, enterprises that have been evaluating Wi-Fi as wired Ethernet replacements will begin taking strides to implement this model for a large amount of their staff.
- Challenges to the Controller Architecture - customers began challenging the viability of the Wi-Fi controller architecture due to behavioral shifts in network use. 802.11n brought higher bandwidth and discussion of Wi-Fi becoming the predominant access technology for end-users in the enterprise. Due to concerns over controller scalability, throughput, single points of failure, and the desire to optimize traffic flows, controller vendors have been challenged to re-think their Wi-Fi architectures to shift more control into distributed access points. Initial migration has begun with virtually all controller vendors now providing distributed data plane traffic forwarding. In 2011, look for advancements to distribute control of Quality of Service, security, radio management, and distributed key caching capabilities into access points. Additionally, watch for controllers to move into more of centralized management role and smart access points being operationally independent from controllers. Some vendors will begin removing controllers from their architectures completely, but will experience growing pains attempting to support both architectures simultaneously for a period of time.
- Enterprise Consumerization & Wi-Fi Only Devices - everyone wants an iPad, including executives. Their ease-of-use, mobile form-factor, and consumer mind-share have executive level management in most organizations pushing IT departments to support iPad access on the corporate network. Since the iPad, and many new and emerging consumer devices, only have Wi-Fi connections, wireless engineering teams have been challenged to collaborate with internal IT security and deliver a secure access method for consumer devices in general, not just limited to the iPad. Careful consideration of security policy changes, network and application security design, and mobile device management platforms have kept IT departments busy scrambling to meet this need. In 2011, look for more enterprises to officially adopt support for consumer devices, owned both by the organization or by individuals, as well as implementation and market growth for mobile device management platforms to give administrators the ability to control access and storage of sensitive corporate data on these devices.
- 3G Problems Drive Wi-Fi Hotspot Demand - as cellular carriers, and AT&T specifically, struggled to keep up with 3G data network demands, they increasingly changed their mindset on Wi-Fi hotspots from competitive technology to a complementary service. The rollout and use of Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010 grew at amazingly sharp rate, lead by AT&T and their quarterly reports on Wi-Fi hotspot usage. Wi-Fi hotspots are seeing unprecedented usage and availability for consumers, with renewed interest in making Wi-Fi a ubiquitous access technology across locales. In 2011, look for additional Wi-Fi hotspot rollout by cellular carriers as well as retail establishments that are attempting to attract and influence consumer purchasing habits.
What are your thoughts on the most important trends in Wi-Fi from the past year?