Look ahead 2005 - avoid WLAN 'pileups'

Look ahead 2005 - avoid WLAN 'pileups'

With many technologies, we've had to wait through many "years of" - as in "this is the year of VoIP" - before vendors finally delivered on their promises. That hasn't been the case with wireless LANs. The level of vendor innovation has been nothing short of astonishing, with vendors finding solutions for range, throughput, interference - you name it. With all that, wireless LANs have become a magnet for all kinds of uses. But beware: As with any system, you can just pile on applications without understanding the impact.

By now, we've all become accustomed to conducting our normal business - data access, e-mail, file transfer - across our WLAN connections. And while we are not going to get the throughput out of an 802.11g (rated at 54M bit/sec) connection as we will out of the Gigabit Ethernet connection that comes standard on more computers (even notebooks), the freedom and flexibility we get more than makes up for any trade-off in speed. After all, few of us are moving multi-gigabyte files around all day anyway. So far, so good.

At the same time, the "year of VoIP" finally has arrived - so many of us have this as our standard voice interface. And VoIP and WLANs converge almost instantly.

Many companies offer solutions that look like traditional telephone handsets but are, in fact, native Wi-Fi devices. SpectraLink is one of the early innovators in this area. These systems can be easily integrated into the enterprise wireless-LAN infrastructure.

And even if you haven't gotten to that point yet, you may well be using a softphone on your notebook which, when you are working wirelessly, will traverse your wireless LAN.

VoIP-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) providers are aware of the importance of voice - and the problems that congested links can bring. Where congestion might cause your file transfer or e-mail sync to slow down or hang briefly (which you might not even notice), that same congestion could shut down your voice conversation or degrade the quality to such a degree that you'll start telling your conversation partner - "I'll call you back on a land line."

Now VoWLAN vendors (and their enterprise wireless-LAN switch partners) are aware of this and QoS solutions, mostly proprietary today with standards-based, will follow.

Good thing, because an "everything-over-WLAN" movement seems to be building up fairly quickly, and congestion could be more than just a "sometimes" occurrence.

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