“This one download which could have taken only about five seconds worth of air time on the channel now used six times as much,” he says.
Finally, of course, multiple clients will consume their own slices of bandwidth, dividing the possible throughput of a given connection by the number of clients on an AP – a problem that’s mitigated with wired connections, which are generally full-duplex.
For Coehoorn, while technological improvements have made Wi-Fi considerably faster and better able to handle the demands of its ubiquity, it’s still going to be a bottleneck in certain situations.
“Older clients, and fundamental limitations will continue to mean wired networks outperform wireless, even when the wireless has a higher raw data rate,” he says.
More Wi-Fi innovations to come
Still, even if the latest generation of Wi-Fi devices haven’t become the worry-free wonder-hardware that the more enthusiastic marketing efforts suggest, that isn’t to say that great strides haven’t been made. The beam-forming and multi-user capabilities in 802.11ac Wave 2 mean that technology could remain the standard for quite a long time. (Wave 2 gear boasts a theoretical maximum throughput of up to 3.47Gbps, compared to Wave 1’s 1.3Gbps, thanks mostly to the aforementioned beamforming technology and the use of wider channels.)
Craig Mathias, a wireless expert and Network World contributor, says that fully optimized wireless implementations that use 802.11ac Wave 2 gear should be able to handle most workloads for the next five years or so. However, he cautioned, demand can be difficult to predict.
“[A]dding new [access points], denser deployments, and more efficient management and analytics will be on the shopping lists of most network managers,” Mathias says. “We're not to set-and-forget just yet.”
And Mike Leibovitz, director of the office of the CTO at Wi-Fi vendor Extreme Networks, concurs, saying that the desire for better and faster among CIOs is pushing demand higher.
“Certainly the customers I talk to, and others in the industry, people are always interested in putting more cars on the highway and seeing how fast they can go,” he says. “It seems today that most conversations, definitely with higher people in organizations … they’re certainly more focused on the experience, and what they can do on top of the infrastructure.”
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