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On Consumerisation, Spatial Streams and Why RF Matters

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

One of the key tenets of engineering is to reduce complexity, but in doing so it is important to understand the implications. While we might try to view one technology as it relates to another to help us simplify the details, it is important that we recognise how and where they differ.

Case in point.

When it comes to wireless networks, I often talk about how there are two questions I dislike being asked more than any others:

  1. How many clients can connect to an access point?
  2. What is the maximum range of an access point?

The reason is that I believe they are the wrong questions. They are being asked from perspective of someone trying to relate to a wireless network as if it were a wired network. What they are really asking is “how many switch ports do I need to cover this area?”

But wireless networks are not switched networks. While each connected device in a wired network has its own physical cable, and thereby its own gigabit Ethernet link, in a wireless network, every device connected to a particular access point shares the same RF spectrum, the same total available bandwidth.

For a standard access point in today’s deployments, that means a maximum total bandwidth of 144Mbps on the 2.4GHz band with a 20MHz channel and 300Mbps on the 5GHz band with a 40MHz channel using channel bonding.

But that is an over simplification.

Those aggregate bandwidths assume each client is connected at the highest available data rate. As we increase range, however, the data rate decreases, thereby reducing the overall channel utilisation. Therefore, with fewer access points, we are not just sharing a limited amount of bandwidth with more clients, but we are actually reducing the total available bandwidth.

Interference, particularly as access points cover larger areas, becomes an even greater issue. An increase in the signal to noise ratio leads to a decrease in the maximum sustainable data rate. This again reduces the overall channel utilisation.  The key here is that a wireless network’s ability to not only detect, but where possible mitigate interference is critical to its ability to sustain higher data rates and maximise the total available bandwidth in each cell.

All this assumes that the wireless clients connecting to the network are even capable of supporting those high data rates.

Most smartphones on the market today support only 802.11g in the 2.4GHz band, meaning that at most they can support 54Mbps.

Newer devices, such as the iPhone 4, support 802.11n, but only in 2.4GHz, and only with a single antenna, limiting them to a single “spatial stream”—in simple terms that means the maximum data rate they can support is 72Mbps.

This applies to tablet devices as well. While the new iPad2 supports 802.11n in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band, it too is limited to a single spatial stream. The Cius goes one step further with support for channel bonding in 5GHz, increasing the maximum data rate to 150Mbps.

Interestingly, we are now starting to see new access points enter the market using Atheros’ first-generation silicon supporting three spatial streams. While this increases the maximum data rate in the 5GHz band to 450Mbps, as we have just seen, this will have no impact on the multitude of mobile devices given their single spatial stream limitation.

Three spatial streams represents a key milestone for the 802.11 standard, and will become increasingly important over the next 2 to 3 years as battery technology improves and wireless chipsets incorporate better power saving designs. Of course, by that time we will be looking at access points supporting four spatial streams and 600Mbps—and again, be waiting for the mobile devices to catch up.

Adding to the complexity in all this are the applications these devices are running across the network. From FaceTime and Skype, to Business Video and Personal Telepresence, voice, and video in particular, are replacing data as the primary traffic type. However, the wireless networks that have been built over the last several years were not designed for voice and video, and certainly not at the device densities we are now seeing.

As we look to support these many different mobile devices entering the market today along with their high bandwidth applications, clearly the two key areas we must consider in our wireless network designs are access point density to control cell sizes, and interference detection and mitigation capabilities to ensure that we maximise the channel utilisation in each cell.

And so, I’d like to propose two different questions to consider at the start of a wireless deployment:

  1. How many different devices do you expect to connect to the wireless network?
  2. And what are the applications that will run across the network and what are their associated bandwidth requirements?

Wireless and wired networks fundamentally differ at the physical layer. While its not necessarily important to understand the details of RF communications, it is important to understand the implications.

RF Matters.

Stay mobile. Stay secure.

—Mark

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Cisco announces new “teleworker” wireless solutions – working from home just got a whole lot easier

When Cisco conducted an industry survey a few months back, the research revealed that 61% of employees believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive – and two-thirds of employees place a higher value on workplace flexibility than salary. Attitudes toward working remotely have certainly shifted over recent years, as working from home is no longer seen as a privilege – it’s expected.

But for just about any employee who has ever needed to work from home, getting a home office wireless network up and running can be time consuming, even if you already have an existing home network. By the time you change network profiles, start VPN clients, and deal with security concerns, not to mention time spent on the phone with the corporate IT helpdesk, you can easily spend a good chunk of your day setting up and configuring your wireless network.

But once again, Cisco can help.

Cisco announced today new OfficeExtend wireless solutions designed toward making the whole teleworking process painless for both the remote worker and the IT manager back at the corporate office. With the new OfficeExtend wireless solutions from Cisco, not only can you have home network profiles for personal use, but as an additional feature, the very same corporate WLAN profiles and security that you using at the office can now be replicated at home.  And better yet, the new wireless solutions require no intervention from end users by allowing IT departments to remotely manage home access points alongside the rest of their corporate infrastructure.   Read More »

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Network Design Mastery

February 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm PST

Now live in our brand spankin’ new virtual environment -- our latest episode ‘Network Design Mastery: Learn from the Pro’s

*What do you think of our new home?  When you click the link above, you will need to give up a little info at first to get registered…but once you do…you are DONE!  You can watch this show and all the others…surf around, leave a comment,…or let us know what you think about all of it in the comments below.

I never ask for directions... but...

This show features a little something for everyone -- see you after the jump…
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Wi-Fi ‘CleanAir’ Coming to Defense Industry in 2011

A key segment in the Public Sector wireless market to keep an eye on in 2011 is the U.S. DoD and Global Defense industry which is in the early stages of a major transformation around secure mobile communications and next-gen wireless LANs.  One such transformation is the U.S. Department of Navy’s transition from NMCI to Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) which supports over 700,000 users in over 3000 locations and includes requirements for 802.11a/g/n for voice and data support.

The ramp of WLAN technology into large Military installations (Air, Land, and Sea) and Defense operations is being driven by the obvious benefits associated with secure 802.11n networking along with critical WLAN functionality such as purpose-built Spectrum Intelligence for Wi-Fi communications (i.e. Cisco CleanAir). For the Defense industry, Cisco CleanAir changes the game for wireless in a big way as it delivers on the promise to run mission critical communications over the unlicensed (and sometimes messy…) RF spectrum of Wi-Fi. But there is a catch…without the required product approvals and security certifications, Defense agencies are limited in what they are allowed to deploy…but that’s soon to change in 2011--more on this later.

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The New Retail Workplace Experience

Multi-channel retailing enables all types of shoppers to enjoy shopping on their own terms. Whether it’s on a TV, a computer, or the 3.5 inch screen of a smart phone, retailers create experiences that increasingly allow consumers to escape store crowds and get access to a wealth of product information with a click. 

E-commerce of-course is also changing traditional retailing in a profound way. The very shoppers that are accustomed to their own retail utopia with no queues, parking meters, instant access to information, integrated social networking, fast and accurate service, also require the same when visiting the brick and mortar store. As a result traditional retailing is now held to a whole new standard of increased expectations that is putting operational pressures, many of which are placed on the shoulders of store employees.

You might wonder what Cisco has to do with the retail workplace experience. Cisco’s Borderless Networks Architecture enables in many ways the next generation retail workplace experience by improving employee and manager productivity through streamlined IT operations that protect the integrity of company and customer data and result in enhanced customer experiences.  

Let’s look at a day in the life of the new retail workplace with some examples of how Cisco Borderless Networks can positively impact retail employee productivity:

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