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Wi-Fi Speeds-n-Feeds Are So Old-school

by Devin Akin on Oct 30, 2013

Speed-n-feeds are not the future of enterprise Wi-Fi. Speed-n-feeds are like my grandmother's potatoes. I'll explain.


Speed is a given. Speed is a commodity. This is what you talk about when you have nothing else to offer, such as system intelligence. Some companies keep trying to rehash the speeds-n-feeds story like my grandmother used to treat potatoes. First, you'd have baked potatoes. If you didn't eat all of them, the next night, you'd have mashed potatoes – made from those same potatoes, of course. If there happened to be any left-overs after that, you'd have fried potato cakes the next night. Believe me, the list of how those potatoes could be served was endless until those potatoes were gone. Same potatoes, different day.

With 802.11ac, networks have plenty of speed. In fact, I will bet you a cold beer that far more bandwidth goes unused on a daily, hourly, and per-minute basis than is ever used – even with an 802.11n network. You would be hard-pressed to find an AP in any enterprise environment that exceeds an average of 10% of its throughput capability when averaged over a normal 8-hour work day. If you find even one, please give me a shout with statistical proof. I’m interested to see that data.

There is Wi-Fi bandwidth to spare within most enterprise networks that have 802.11n or 802.11ac technology. The bottleneck isn't in the radio capability, the architecture, the channel airtime, the AP CPU power, or even the available spectrum. The only exceptions are major interference sources, which can affect channel airtime and available spectrum, but that’s off-topic because you don’t design capacity around interference sources.

If there's an actual speed bottleneck anywhere, it's found in the battery life of mobile devices, which causes the use of single spatial stream (1SS) radios. Truth be told, even mobile devices using 1SS are fast, ranging from 65 to 433 Mbps, with about half of this data rate being considered usable throughput.

If you have some kind of crazy high-density scenario, sure, you could potentially run into an airtime bottleneck on specific APs at specific times, but that's a sub-one percent use case issue in most enterprises, and buying a entire solution around a sub-one percent use case seems silly given the price multiple that you are apt to pay.

Most vendors are still building wave-1 802.11ac APs, and the industry is already talking about forthcoming wave-2 technologies, which are more than a year away, highlighting the marketing frenzy around performance. Look, I'm not against performance, but I'm saying that it's far from the most important consideration. In fact, at this point, it's pretty far down the list.

Well, since there's plenty of speed, what aspects are more important?

  • Solutions focused on vertical markets
  • MSP (managed service provider) enablement
  • Simplicity and intuitiveness of use and deployment
  • Sales model and process: capex, opex
  • System security, redundancy and stability
  • System maintenance, monitoring and compliance reporting

Those are just a few, but they are enough to point out that all of the hoopla around “just speed” is off-target. Almost any enterprise vendor can now provide reasonable connectivity, and they have the reference customers to prove it. Therefore, winning in the market is no longer just about connectivity, but rather about solving customer problems by providing a focused solution.

You like apples? ;)

/Image via For an uncommon twist on potato cakes, get the recipe: Orange ricotta sweet potato pancakes

Topics: WiFi, WLAN networks, Midmarket