Survey Says: Enterprise WLANs Are Trudging Ahead

On Friday, Webtorials announced its fourth annual survey of enterprise WLAN deployment plans, attitudes, and experiences, drawn from 300 individuals involved in evaluating, recommending, purchasing or managing business WLANs.

In their 2007 Wireless LAN State-of-the-Market Report, authors Joanie Wexler and Steven Taylor found sustained business use of Wi-Fi products and wireless multimedia applications. But, this year, many companies appear to be – at least temporarily – holding back on the latest technologies, including VoIP and 802.11n.

Fueling Growth

Although WLANs had been deployed by at least 86 percent of those companies surveyed, just one in three makes wireless access available to over half of their workforce. Penetration into the most popular coverage areas – public rooms (76 percent), individual offices/cubicles (59 percent) and warehouse/manufacturing floor (26 percent) – was proportionate but slightly lower than last year. In other words, just about every company continues to dabble in Wi-Fi today, but usage within each workplace is not expanding as fast as some forecasted.

In fact, many analysts had expected WLAN upgrades and expansion to ride the coat-tails of VoIP, which requires more dense and comprehensive coverage than casual data. But this year’s survey found a complete lack of consensus on when to deploy VoIP over Wi-Fi. Approximately 35 percent of this year’s participants have already implemented VoIP on their WLAN. Roughly the same percentage expected to turn up voice within one year, while the remaining third expressed no VoIP plans at all.

Given that fully half of those surveyed last year had expected to deploy VoIP by now, some planned initiatives seem to have been delayed or deferred. However, whether delay in VoIP is slowing WLAN expansion or vice versa is hard to say. Hopefully, the full survey report, to be published in mid-September, will shed further light on this chicken-and-egg debate.

Making WLANs Faster and Better

Some companies may be holding back on WLAN expansion until the time is right for investing in related standard and product upgrades. According to the 2007 survey, most business WLANs are still using 802.11b/g. Half now also use 802.11a, while a mere 6 percent have adopted 802.11n. But future protocol adoption plans suggest that at least two-thirds of the market will move quickly to 802.11n once that standard is finalized. However, 5 GHz band 802.11n may shoulder 802.11a aside, with fully 28 percent having no plans to use 802.11a going forward.

The greater capacity promised by 802.11n and the increased bandwidth demand associated with multimedia traffic may prompt yet another shift in WLAN architectures. According to survey results, companies are now roughly divided between the “centralized controller/thin AP” approach (46 percent) and the “distributed intelligent AP/some central management” approach (40 percent). But just 23 percent use or plan to use a “split architecture” that distributes functionality more fully between APs and controllers – an emerging approach that many believe will be necessary to realize the high-speed promise of 802.11n.

Taking Things Step by Step

In short, 2007 appears to be the year when companies chose to sit tight and plan ahead.

“I expect next year’s survey to reflect a further surge in the deployment of centralized controller-based WLANs,” said Joanie Wexler, an independent technology editor and the primary researcher on the report. “Newer hybrid architectures have barely penetrated user awareness in part because most enterprises won’t need them until they adopt 802.11n. And enterprise 802.11n deployments won’t grow pervasive until at least 2009.”

Article courtesy of Wi-Fi Planet

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