Wireless – the convergence protocol
I’m sitting on a plane and like any good product manager I’m thinking about my product line – the size, scope and future of it, and I had a thought…Without a doubt the world as converged on IP as the protocol of choice. In 1991 we had multi-protocol routers, but IP was already eeking out increasing market share because of the good old Internet. Finally web browsers began being bundled with PCs and voila! Everyone had to get IP connected. Flash forward fifteen years later and we now run voice over IP, data over IP and video over IP (The IP triple play). Plus there are a myriad of applications that were non-existent before the world coalesced around this protocol. It has transformed the way we communicate in business and at home.So now, at 36,000 feet, I’m wondering if wireless has the same potential as IP. A very quotable person once said,”wireless is the natural state of communications.”I think he was right. The pieces are in place for the world to converge on WIFI. In much the same way that the web browser made everyone have to be connected to the Internet, Centrino has made it so that every laptop that ships is wirelessly enabled. Let’s go down the triple play checklist:Data over WIFI Well chances are when I post this blog I’ll be sending it over a wireless link in my hotel tonight, or perhaps at a T-mobile hotspot, or perhaps I’ll steal some RF from somewhere – either way. I can do it. Data over WIFI: CHECK!Voice over WIFI I routinely use my IP Communicator over my WiFi link from home – it saves Cisco all kinds of money. I can secure the connection using a VPN client. I’ve done it all over the world and it works really well. For those of you that don’t use IP Communicator, I recommend that you use a freeware program like Skype, Yahoo, or Google talk. They all work. As you’ll quickly see, the challenge is not the single call on an access point, it is multiple calls on an access point. I often use this example in an EBC-.Imagine that everyone in the room whips out their phone to call their significant other at the exact same time, the way that 802.11 works, all of the client devices would run to the bright light (i.e. the AP with the strongest signal in a room). 802.11 by its nature is a socialist protocol, so we would all be granted access to the medium and the voice quality for all of our calls might suffer. Its for this reason that we introduced Call Admission Control technology, which when coupled with CCX makes for highly reliable, high quality, scalable voice. Voice over WIFI: CHECK!Video over WIFICan I watch streaming clips of UCLA losing to Florida in the NCAAs? Yes (I’m a UCLA fan if you are wondering). Can I flip channels and have the same reliable, fast channel changing that I get on my TV? No.This is clearly an area where there is work to be done. Here are some high level thoughts on what it will take:- More bandwidth- Better client capacity management- Continued decrease in cell sizes (coverage area per AP)- 802.11e clientsVideo over WIFI: Uh.. no! But we’ll get there. There are a multitude of applications that are growing out of the wireless medium, Wifi presence applications, asset tracking, security applications, monitoring applications, and many more. So from an application enablement perspective I think that wireless actually has an advantage over wireline protocols. But after meandering through this blog, here is what I’ve concluded. At Layer 3 IP is the convergence protocol of choice. At Layer 2 WIFI will be the convergence protocol of choice. At Layer 1 Wireless is already a dominant medium (think cellular), but it will eventually be the same in the enterprise.