The Dwindling Wireline Gap

Mobile Business Expo sessions show the performance differences between wired and wireless networks are vanishing rapidly

October 31, 2006

2 Min Read
The Dwindling Wireline Gap

I'm coming to you today from Mobile Business Expo, the enterprise-focused mobility conference happening in Chicago. I'll be here all week, reporting on how enterprises are adopting wireless technologies from Bluetooth to WiFi to GSM/UMTS, and how the providers and vendors are approaching these new markets.

The session agenda gives a good picture of how pervasive and powerful these networks have become in the last year or two. They include "Wireless LAN and Mobile Device Management," "Mobile Applications Strategies: CRM, ERP, and Field Force Automation," "The Business End of Wireless Mobility: Wireless Policy and Telecom Expense Management," and "Wireless MANs and Campus Networks: Cellular, Mesh, and WiMax."

It's safe to say that, as little as 18 months ago, most IT managers would barely have heard of those technologies and topics, much less find them compelling enough to pay money and travel to Chicago to learn about them.

This morning's session at Mobile Business Expo, hosted by Craig Mathias, principal at the Farpoint Group and an Unstrung columnist, is a big-picture look at wireless broadband access. Half an hour in (hey, we're live here!), Mathias' main point is that, 111 years after Marconi invented the first working radio, the technological innovation around radio-frequency networks has never been more rapid and more far-reaching.

Of course, claims for the capacity and reliability of mobile networks -- the only parameters enterprise IT managers care about -- continue to be exaggerated. As Mathias puts it, "The advertised throughput is the speed the marketing department guarantees the network will never exceed."

That being said, what might be called the wireline gap -- the difference in performance, cost, and security of fiber-optic, cable, T1s, DSL, etc. versus wireless networks -- is dwindling rapidly to the point where it will essentially be zero in the very near future. As many IT pros already know, vendor promises about wireline performance have no stronger connection to real-world conditions today than those relating to wireless networks.

The advent of incredibly smart radio antennas, as in MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple Output) systems -- will actually reverse this gap. (Based on the IEEE 802.11n standard, MIMO will not replace existing 802.11b/g-based wireless LANs until 2009 at the earliest.)

Advanced network architectures, particularly mesh networks, which Mathias calls "The most important architectural innovation in wireless networks today," are already having the same effect of reducing or eliminating the wireline gap.

Where's all this leading, and more importantly, what are the most important decisions facing IT departments today? I hope to have some clearer answers by the end of the week. Meanwhile, I hope you'll stay tuned to the news stories that come out of Mobile Business Expo. (It's like attending the show without paying for admission or traveling!). And if you have specific questions that can be answered by the show's presenters, feel free to post them on the Unstrung message boards or email me directly at [email protected].

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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