August 29, 2007 5:19 AM PDT

Report: Wi-Fi to supersede wired Ethernet

Wi-Fi will start replacing wired Ethernet within the next two to three years, as users and applications go mobile, an IT analyst group has claimed.

In a report comparing gigabit Ethernet with the latest version of Wi-Fi, 802.11n, Burton Group suggests that companies should begin making plans for switching their local-area networks (LANs) from wired to wireless.

The new 802.11n standard "will put pervasive mobility on the fast track," Burton analyst Paul DeBeasi said Tuesday.

"IT professionals should start thinking now about how they will deploy, maintain and benefit from an all-wireless LAN."

In the report, DeBeasi claimed that 802.11n would make serious inroads into wired Ethernet's market within 24 to 36 months.

DeBeasi listed several reasons for the switch to 802.11n, including growing numbers of laptop users, increased use of mobile applications and the deployment of voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

He also suggested that users consider the switch, if they found "fast Ethernet"--the current widely deployed standard, as opposed to the new gigabit Ethernet standard--to offer sufficient throughput for their needs. Fast Ethernet offers a theoretical maximum throughput of 100 megabits per second, while 802.11n offers a maximum of 248Mbps.

"One can analyze the differences between 802.11n and Ethernet with regard to performance, security, manageability, cost and impact on staff," DeBeasi said. "However, the definitive and unalterable competitive advantage that 802.11n has over Ethernet is pervasive mobility."

DeBeasi added that, while recent advances in radio design, security and wireless management would soon make 802.11n the preferred LAN access technology, wired Ethernet would continue to be necessary in switch trunks and data center networks for many years to come.

The new version of 802.11n promises higher throughput, and better range and bandwidth, than its predecessors. However, the standard's ratification has been a controversial affair, with final approval by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) poised to come as late as 2009.

As a result of that delay, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the nonprofit formed to certify interoperability between Wi-Fi products, began certifying equipment conforming to the draft standard earlier this year in a bid to give customers, particularly those in the consumer sector, some confidence in the interoperability of various vendors' 802.11n devices.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
IEEE 802.11n, throughput, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet

14 comments

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Not Gonna Happen.
Regardless of 802.11n or 802.11b. Wireless is Wireless. Any IT professionals that care about security are not going to put the majority of clients as wireless unless they have to (like for mobile devices). A hacker can sniff wireless signals in the air enough to figure things out. Over a wired network they need to jack in and NAC can solve that. If you do a survey of IT professionals (I am one) then this story would be more like, "Wireless maybe taking over Gigabit upgrades, but IT professionals still are not confident on making wireless the standard for the end user"
Posted by esterud (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree...
Someone just looking to get their name posted for an article..., I
concur with the above poster. While wireless is very useful, and the
tech is improving, It still not going to over take a tethered system
for quite some time. Most of the puters in my house use wireless
WEP, however, my own personal daily puter is still connected by
ethernet, with a switch to turn the flow off when I'm away from it.
Posted by smithjones (103 comments )
Link Flag
I also agree
Many applications will not get the bandwidth they need from N in the near term... we're needing gigabit connections now. When will wireless have the same bandwidth as wired gigabit for a network of 100 users?
Posted by W Macaulay (37 comments )
Link Flag
Somewhat agree
The security risk is there. It takes physical access to break into a network and wireless simply pumps that access outside of your controlled spaces. There are ways to make it more secure, however. Forget WEP, it's useless. The best security is obtained through an encrypted L2TP connection to a radius server using certificates at each end for the authentication. I would score that almost as secure as hard wire and acceptable for use. There are other security concerns that can be much more damaging than the above type of wireless (i.e. look what you just threw in the trash can). Wireless CAN be secure enough but only if the company is willing to make it so.

There is another reason IT does not like wireless: bandwidth and latency. The standard today is a 100mb connection to each computer and linked by a switch with a 1 GB core for the servers. One computer downloading a 200 MB file doesn't noticably affect any other computer's bandwidth. Each computer has a dedicated 100 mb pipe to the switch which gets merged into the gigabit backbone. This is not the case with wireless. All the computers share a single link to the switch. Overhead from wireless protocols and encryption will reduce the usable bandwidth by half and the latency from the encryption/decryption and bridging to wireless is poor. 802.11n may be 200 megabit but the people who use it will be reminded of the 10baseT days when it comes to bandwidth. I've seen it and it's not pretty.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Not Gonna Happen is RIGHT
There's no way any true IT guy is going to kill wired internet. Not only is WiFi not secure, it's never going to be as reliable as wired. Anyone who has had the frustration of weak signal, interference, dropped connections, etc. will know wireless network is fine for mobility and occasional Internet use, but not for sustained network use or reliable data connection.

Whoever commissioned that report is obviously being paid by the Wireless industry.
Posted by nachurboy (114 comments )
Link Flag
Cost is another factor
I can buy ethernet cards for $5, while 99.9% of all computers sold now have onboard ethernet.

802.11n adapters are still in the $100 ballpark figure. It doesn't seem cost effective to upgrade 250 systems to .n just because users find it too difficult or time consuming to plug in a cat5 cable.

.n is going to have to drop significantly in price and there will need to be advances in wireless security before it replaces a wired network.
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
Link Flag
Bad bad bad idea
This analyst has not lived in the real world. When you have a lot of wifi users in a concentrated space, you have issues with managing diverse client hardware, varying software versions, and whether those clients intelligently manage themselves WRT access points versus the AP managing the client. All of these issues go away with a wired network. Security is better. Machines ship with gig cards. Why anyone would sacrifice this simply to be wireless has not done a complete analysis. Wireless is the bane of my existence and is for people who like to work at Starbucks.
Posted by ilikefdisk (1 comment )
Link Flag
It's a numbers game
Laptops will never be cheaper & faster than desktops, wired ethernet will always be faster then WiFi. Businesses will by and large err on the side of ROI.
Posted by geekorama (26 comments )
Link Flag
You are right! I am writing to you from the FUTURE, and here we are not jumping into wireless, even though it is more available. We are using more 4G internet connections on cell phones in large cities. Some thought that today would be the last day of the world because the Mayans calendar ended, but that was incorrect as well.
Posted by IT_Student_GranthamU (2 comments )
Link Flag
The bandwidth is shared, isn't it?
Ignoring issues of reliability, isn't the 200 MB/sec a shared bandwidth between all users of the wireless access point? And can the routers generate that type of bandwidth when the connection is encrypted?

If the bandwidth is shared, then there's no way wireless will replace wired connections. 100 users on a 200 MB/sec would give each user 2 MB/sec.

Also, At least in my home 802.11g router, the bandwidth drops by at least 50% when I'm using WEP-2 encryption.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
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