An 802.11 Outlook: Say Goodbye to Access Layer Wires

An 802.11 Outlook: Say Goodbye to Access Layer Wires

By CWNP On 12/17/2013 - 15 Comments

A look at the future of wired connectivity as a primary access layer.

Written By: Tom Carpenter

Has the time come to eradicate all plans that include wired connectivity at the access layer?

For many organizations, the answer is an unhesitating, "Yes." For others, it is an uncertain, "Maybe." For few, it is a simple, "No." The point is that wired access to networks is becoming less important and will continue to do so. As you plan for future network upgrades and installations, wireless must become the primary access layer technology.Certainly, we will continue to ensure that proper wired connectivity is available where required. A few immediate locations where wired connectivity is needed today include:

• Servers

• Infrastructure devices

• Intensive networked data workstations

• Network service devices

NOTE: Interestingly, with the advent of 802.11ad at 60 GHz with several gigabits for each link, the potential for wireless links in the infrastructure is very conceivable for the future.

For example, I'd rather have four 5-7 Gbps links between two routers than a single 10 Gbps wired link in nearly every scenario.

Yes, a wireless infrastructure must still acknowledge malicious interference, but the nice thing is that 60 GHz interferers will be easier to locate (they will have to be very close by). I know, 60 GHz is making "moves" (potentially, but we're not sure yet) into enterprise APs, but I still see great value in segregating it for use on the infrastructure. But, that's an 802.11 outlook for another day.

So, why do I say that the primary access layer technology should be wireless in all future plans? Because it is already the primary access layer technology today. When users "BYOD," they are rarely BYODing a wired device (though I did plenty of that back in the day [smile]). They are bringing wireless phones, tablets and laptops. If they also have a desktop, their desired access layer connections are 3-to-1 in favor of wireless.

Many organizations have all but replaced desktop computers with laptops. Laptops provide the benefits of being portable, smaller, less power consuming and plenty expandable these days thanks to the replacement of PC Cards with USB. If users have laptops that they carry to their meetings, do they really want to plug them into a wire (Ethernet) when they get back to their desks? Likely, not; however, in the interest of full disclosure, I do have a docking station at my desk for my laptop which does connect to a wired Ethernet link. Yes, the Wi-Fi guy is using Ethernet at his desk. Sorry.

802.11g (and a) took us a long way toward being able to cut the cord. Today, with 802.11n and 802.11ac, for most applications, the time has come. Sure, you won't get the best in performance when playing that online shooter, but for the standard business and personal application, Wi-Fi is just fine.

Therefore, I suggest the following: don't ever design another network without making Wi-Fi a or the primary access layer.

Your users will thank you. When you design a network with Wi-Fi as primary, you always get better performance from it than when you layer Wi-Fi onto the network as an afterthought.

What do you think Wi-Fi geeks? Are we ready to say, for most organizations, Wi-Fi is primary? I think we are there for the most part in many countries and many more countries will find themselves there in the next 2-3 years.

Tagged with: 802.11ac, Wireless, WiFi, 802.11, primary access layer, Access layer wires,

15 Responses to An 802.11 Outlook: Say Goodbye to Access Layer Wires

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Tom Carpenter Says:
01/30/2014 at 13:44pm
Igor Bartolic - If you read closely, it is not a ratio from research it is from the scenario presented. If a user brings in a mobile phone (with Wi-Fi), a tablet and a laptop and has a desktop computer, there is a 3:1 ratio of desired Wi-Fi to Ethernet connections.

Jon Foster Says:
01/14/2014 at 15:45pm
In the Higher Education arena I still think there is a place for wired connectivity, and will be for the foreseeable future. Indeed, I have actively resisted murmurs to the tune of "Oh, can we have wireless only offices now please?" The reasons - capacity & reliability. Even with 802.11ac providing greater capacity, Wi-Fi if fundementally "orders of magnitude less reliable" than good old trusty gig-ethernet. I mean, assuming a port stays patched into an enterprise grade switch there isn't much to go wrong - the wires *just work*. Compare that with all the things which can break the WLAN!

Igor Bartolic Says:
01/08/2014 at 23:48pm
Interesting article.
Where did you find that the ratio of wireless and wired connections is 3:1?

Matthew Behrle Says:
01/07/2014 at 20:45pm
I cable into the network at my desk as well despite being our wireless guy, so no worries there. If it helps, consider that by not being on the wireless you are leaving more capacity for others and potentially reducing your overall complaints ;-)

Jeffrey Kuehn Says:
12/19/2013 at 14:26pm
Tom, you said, "the advent of 802.11ac at 60 GHz." Did you mean 802.11ad? I thought 802.11ac was only defined in the 5GHz UNII bands?

Radoslaw Garczynski Says:
12/19/2013 at 11:21am
I agree, WiFi as the primary access layer, but wires are her to stay for interconnecting access points with access layer switches, access layer with distribution/core layer, and of course data centers, are and will be wired.

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