Where’s My Guarantee?

Where’s My Guarantee?

By CWNP On 06/07/2010 - 10 Comments

That may be Steve Jobs’ question after today’s WWDC mishap. I’m not an Apple fanboy, so I have to chuckle about Steve Jobs’ (actually, it was someone else’s responsibility, but he should’ve known) slightly embarrassing blunder this morning. Relying on 2.4 GHz conference Wi-Fi to do a much anticipated and incredibly important keynote speech…oy!

If you haven’t heard or read, Steve Jobs’ keynote presentation on the opening day (today) of Apple’s WWDC was impeded by problems with the saturated Wi-Fi network. He was trying to demonstrate the speed and screen clarity of the new iPhone 4G as compared with the iPhone 3GS, and here’s what happened. Disclaimer: I was not there, and this is information that I’ve picked up from the web, so it may or may not be completely accurate. No less, I believe it captures the essence of what happened. Quotes are Steve Jobs’ words.

"So now I'm going to go to some websites. I'm going to go to the NYT... let's compare." At this point, the iPhone 4G did not load the webpage, but the 3GS did. "Our [Wi-Fi] networks in here are always unpredictable..."

"You know you could help me out, if you're on WiFi if you could just get off... well we're having a little problem here."

"I'm afraid we have a problem and I'm not going to be able to show you much today... let's just go take a look at some photos here...”

So, if you’re reading into those quotes there, you’re realizing that things were not going as planned. And by “planned,” I mean “arbitrarily hoped for.” I have to imagine that they went through some amount of testing prior to the demonstration to make sure it would make the 4G look nice and purchasable. Of course, once you pack loads of connected people into a conference (many broadcasting their own network), you should pretty well expect 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi to be saturated like bread in water. But, that didn’t stop Apple from publicly demonstrating the shortcomings of the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum.

In addition to providing a somewhat humorous anecdote, Jobs’ mishap highlights the fact that Wi-Fi is unpredictable, and the spectrum limited. Without help from proprietary features, wireless contention is utterly probabilistic with no guarantees. You can’t rely on basic arbitration to get the application performance that you want all the time, and interestingly enough, our expectations for application performance are continuing to increase. We all want our apps to work properly, with no hang-ups, the first time, and NOW! This is a perfect demonstration that, while Wi-Fi is getting better and better, it is still limited.

I can’t really understand why extra measures weren’t taken to ensure that Jobs’ devices got infinite priority. Or perhaps, they did everything they could, but it still wasn’t enough. I’m not really sure, but the question that this does raise for me is that of WLAN service guarantees. Meru Networks has been applying the full-court press lately with their 99.99% guaranteed service-level features, and I think that’s pretty cool. Assuming these assurances don’t come with excessive provisions and fine-print exclusions, from the customer’s standpoint, this type of assurance is pretty nice. The control Meru gains with their unique architecture enables this type of service guarantee. Other vendors, like Aerohive, have also innovated with their service-level agreement (SLA) features, because they also understand that Wi-Fi in the enterprise needs more predictability and reliability. I’ll bet ole Steve would agree.

I don’t have any musings about the conference Wi-Fi vendor, the network’s design, or the configuration (I’m ignorant on all points), but regardless of those important factors, I wanted to highlight the mishap, raise a bit of extra awareness about the continued need for wireless design training, and praise the vendors who are offering guarantees and SLAs for their network’s service. If you design your network and set your expectations while ignoring Wi-Fi’s limitations, you might end up having to “just go take a look at some photos” as a backup plan to something that wows customers and kicks arse.

Perhaps this will lead Apple to strongly consider dual-band Wi-Fi for the next iPhone 4GS. The proof of 2.4 GHz over-utilization should now be clear enough.

Tagged with: utilization, Apple, WWDC

Blog Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within these blog posts are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Certitrek, CWNP or its affiliates.

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