Enterprises Poised to Adopt 802.11n�Any Minute Now

Colubris survey of IT managers suggests .11n is a "game changer," but few are rushing into this.

Corporate America is almost ready to upgrade its wireless LAN to the speedier 802.11n protocol. Tech execs might even be ready to ditch wired LAN in favor of 802.11n, which they see as a significant step forward from existing 802.11b or g options.

But we're not quite there yet.

These are the finding of a recent study by wireless LAN equipment provider Colubris Networks. The company surveyed 200 senior IT professionals in an effort to benchmark their familiarity with the 802.11n standard and to gauge their future deployment plans.

Among respondents, 44 percent said they already have plans to implement 802.11n. Nearly a third say they would be using 802.11n to replace an existing wired network.

These same IT professionals say they plan to take it slow, with 62 percent planning to phase in 802.11n gradually as opposed to doing it all at once.

Colubris executives say these finding show a market that is ready to embrace what 802.11n has to offer. "What we are inferring out of the data is that 802.11n changes the game. It provides performance levels that are comparable to the wired network, with the added benefit of mobility," said Carl Blume, Colubris' director of strategic marketing.

Respondents to the survey work primarily in medium to large businesses (more than 500 employees) and come from a wide range of industries, including healthcare, education, manufacturing, and financial services.

The willingness of corporations to consider swapping out wires in favor of wireless continues a trend, as IT managers increasingly come to appreciate the lower price point and potential higher capability of a wireless LAN. "They believe they have more capability of adding additional applications or getting better use out of their existing infrastructure, if they were to go with wireless now," said Tom Racca, VP of marketing at Colubris.

Despite the perceived advantages, some businesses have been slow to make the transition to wireless LAN. According to the Colubris data, the holdup may have something to do with a lack of understanding.

Among respondents, 38 percent did not know the theoretical bandwidth of 802.11n, which is 300 Mbps. Only 34 percent could correctly identify 300 feet as the coverage range for 802.11n and 55 percent were unaware that 802.11n typically cannot deliver its promised speed if it is hampered by existing 802.11b/g clients.

With b/g devices already widely in play in the corporate environment, it's unlikely a company will do a full rip-and-replace to get 802.1ln up and running. That means this question of slower speeds could be a significant factor as IT execs plan their upgraded networks. With the possibility that .11n devices could drop to 54 Mbps., Racca said, "you need to be thinking about dual radio networks."

If IT professionals indeed are not fully up to speed on the details of 802.11n, then the survey's next findings should come as no great surprise. Basically, IT execs are wary about moving forward.

Sixty-nine percent are worried about the cost and 60 percent are nervous about compatibility. Forty-seven percent fret security, 33 percent worry about technical complexity, and 21 percent are jittery about the length of time it will take to deploy.

For IT executives faced with such concerns, planning is key, Racca said. It's all about asking the right questions.

"You need to look for a solution that is going to allow you to smoothly integrate 802.11n into your existing infrastructure: 'What is the impact on my current wired infrastructure? How will I maintain the performance levels of my b/g devices? And what applications will be taking advantage of the new capabilities of n?' Those are the key issues you want to consider," he said.

Even as they consider such questions, some IT managers are showing a readiness to begin moving forward.

"The current thinking among the IT people seems to be: 'I need to have .11n as part of my thought process today, regardless of what I may be thinking about deploying,' " Racca said. "That came across pretty loud and clear in the survey."

Whether or not they are ready to proceed, "there definitely is a buzz around 802.11n," Blume said. "People realize it is an important standard."

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