Don't Wait For 802.11n Ratification — Sell It Now
Help your customers realize the benefits of 802.11n draft 2.0, and ramp up your wireless sales revenue.
When it comes to the latest information technology, the best advice is usually to wait to implement it. This is true whether we're talking about the latest computer operating systems (think about all the glitches discovered when Windows XP first came out) and even niche products such as RFID (radio frequency identification), which had several standards issues that had to be worked out before it could be taken seriously in the enterprise. With every rule, there is an exception, however, and in wireless technology, one exception is 802.11n, the latest Wi-Fi standard developed by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). 802.11n is currently in its second draft (aka draft 2.0), and it's about a year away from being ratified. Experts from Cisco, D-Link, Novarum, and Proxim Wireless offer several reasons you should not wait until January 2009 to start selling 802.11n. Some of the experts feel strongly that you can start selling this technology now.
Draft 2.0 Lives Up To The Hype
According to Phil Belanger, founder and CMO of analyst group Novarum, Inc., "The test results of draft 2.0 equipment have exceeded expectations. In fact, even if only one part of the wireless solution — the access point [AP] or the client — is upgraded, the result is double the range compared with an 802.11g or 802.11a solution when operating at 54 Mbps [megabits per second]."
In a pure 802.11n environment, the expectation is that the throughput will be up to 10 times better than the current Wi-Fi standards (in addition to better range). Consider this for a moment. The current useable throughput of an 802.11g AP is about 20 Mbps to 25 Mbps (up to 54 Mbps of occasional raw data throughput bursts). "The expected useable throughput of an 802.11n AP is between 120 Mbps for first-generation 802.11n products and more than 200 Mbps later," says Belanger.
Wireless mesh deployments, which have received some bad press over the past year, are another area where 802.11n can provide immediate help. "In a mesh configuration, each node includes multiple radios, which enables it to serve as an access point as well as to handle backhaul," says Milind Bhise, director of product and channel marketing at Proxim Wireless. 802.11a, b, and g deployments suffered severe throughput loss each time data hopped from one node to another. Because of 802.11n's superior throughput and range capabilities, it solves many of the previous problems with mesh networks.
As if this weren't good enough news, it gets even better. 802.11n can be used in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which includes three nonoverlapping channels, or it can operate in the 5 GHz spectrum, which includes up to 12 nonoverlapping channels. Each channel is separated by 20 MHz (e.g. 5.170 GHz and 5.180 GHz). 802.11n supports channel bonding, which enables APs and clients to transmit and receive data using one 40 MHz channel. "Channel bonding can double the wireless throughput, which makes 300 Mbps to 600 Mbps theoretically possible, although real performance ranges from 120 to 140 Mbps [note: other experts believe 400 Mbps is the highest realistic throughput]," says Alex Thurber, senior director of technology go to market for worldwide channels at Cisco Systems. Based on these findings, vendors such as Cisco, Colubris Networks, and Trapeze Networks have already released 802.11n draft 2.0 products for the enterprise. By early 2008, we can expect several other vendors to follow.
What 802.11n Means For Your Customers
According to Keith Karlsen, executive VP at D-Link Systems, Inc., "We are already seeing the adoption of 802.11n draft 2.0 products starting to surpass 802.11g implementations. One reason behind this adoption rate is that this latest wireless standard is more flexible than a wired Ethernet installation."
Campus environments are expected to be the early adoption targets for 802.11n. The largest category of campus deployments will be municipalities. According to research from Muniwireless.com, in 2008 U.S. municipality spending on public wireless infrastructures will grow 105% to $940 million, and 2009 spending will increase another 87% to $1.8 billion. Sprint and Clearwire Communications' $5 billion investment in WiMAX (worldwide interoperability for microwave access), a long-range wireless metropolitan area network technology, will eventually play a key role in municipal Wi-Fi deployments, but 802.11n will be the perfect complement to WiMAX as well as the preferred technology in some cases. For example, 802.11n could be used to connect clients to the network and WiMAX could be used to backhaul data to an ISP (Internet service provider).
Set Realistic Wi-Fi Expectations For Your Customers
Even though there's already enough evidence to tout the benefits of 802.11n, don't expect it initially to be an easy sell to your customers. "VARs need to make sure not to establish unrealistic expectations for their customers," says Karlsen. "The best way to set realistic expectations is for the VAR to know the customer's requirements and environmental conditions. For example, we once worked with a VAR that was trying to create a site recommendation for a large municipality that wanted to set up a wireless network for neighborhood businesses. Because the VAR never fully understood how many businesses were receptive to the program, it inaccurately quoted how many access points were necessary to build the network." Also, if a customer is happy with its current WLAN, make sure you know why it should consider upgrading before you start talking about the benefits and features of an 802.11n WLAN.
"For example, if a hospital has a legacy WLAN, you could talk about the value of providing doctors with wireless access to X-rays or patient monitoring equipment," says Thurber. "For an education customer, you could highlight the reliability of 802.11n and show how it can provide secure video surveillance, making the campus a safer environment."
Don't Neglect 802.11n Training
802.11n does require some new skill sets to take advantage of its potential. For example, unlike most wireless radios that project wireless signals in a circular/oval pattern, 802.11n uses MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which creates a spiky looking coverage pattern. VARs will need to use new site survey tools to make sure they are properly designing 802.11n networks.
"Gaining technical expertise in indoor and outdoor deployments is another key differentiator," says Proxim's Bhise. "Outdoor networks require more thorough RF planning, taking into account potential obstacles such as buildings, trees, and even the contour of the land [i.e. you many need topological maps that include latitude and longitude coordinates]."
Not understanding wireless network management solutions is another area Bhise sees as a potential pitfall for VARs. "An unchecked network is a disaster waiting to happen," he says. "A good management system enables network monitoring and is useful for detecting rogue APs, pushing firmware updates, and providing alerts."
No matter how well you prepare yourself to sell 802.11n, there will be customers that won't be willing to budge for another year or so. However, by gaining expertise in this new technology now and learning how to sell and implement it, you'll have a distinct advantage over any of your competitors that decide to put off selling it until later.