Cloudy WiFi? Why Not?

WiFi/WLAN is taken so much for granted nowadays, that it’s easy to forget just how far it has come in recent years.

Given that it took around 15 years to get from proprietary 1Mbps technologies such as those offered by NCR (WaveLAN) and Olivetti (can’t remember the product name, except that they used it to remote control a forklift truck – a real one, not a Dinky – at a show at the NEC way back; ‘elf n safety’ – what was that back then?) to an IEEE standards-based 10Mbps Ethernet solution, the speed of change (and change of speed) since then, and especially since the .11n standard emerged, is nothing short of spectacular.

Been catching up with a number of vendors, including the likes of Zebra, Cradlepoint, Xirrus and TP-Link, and it’s clear that the WiFi world really has become ubiquitous, from Glastonbury – see CW story:  – which used Cradlepoint technology, for the record (or mp3) – to every coffee chain in the world (seemingly), every hotel room (with the possible exception of Bridlington) and, pretty well every square yard of every town in the UK, WiFi is available. Even if you’re not aware of that (access) point, your smartphone keeps reminding you…

But it’s the capabilities that are now pretty astounding, something I touched on with Bruce Miller of Xirrus last week. That company’s latest Wave 2 APs contain up to eight radios and support 3.47Gbps of throughput – each! in the mid-2k’s we needed a depot full of gear to achieve those levels of coverage and performance…

And with the proliferation of outdoor APs now, it means that it is THE perfect technology for cloud-based services; it even passes in the ether, so you can even justify looking up in the sky when you mention the “C” word (as many people seem to do). It has also changed the way people select everything from which hotel room to which coffee chain (or burger chain), based on their past experiences – and the likes of Tripadvisor etc, something I also touched upon with Bruce, and conversations with Hubert Da Costa of Cradlepoint and Andy Woolhead of TP-Link.

The “value-add” that WiFi now gives to a business (not to technology) has also meant that IT guys, regardless of their business, are having to turn their WiFi investments into revenue-making resource. No longer is it enough just to feel inclined to offer WiFi as a free service to the staff or general public, it has to earn £££, soon equal to €€ or $… This, again, makes a cloud-based WiFi service a very attractive proposition to a business; known OpEx and less pressure on ROI. It also gets around the primary problem – still – of Wifi; hopelessly bad deployments. Despite automated site surveys having told engineers precisely where to mount each AP (and how many, and at what settings) since the early days of controller-based WLAN, Trapeze etc, venues (yes YOU hotels, you know who I mean) still get it horribly wrong. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 15 years to sort that issue out..

Meantime for Zebra fans (and not those who eat the burgers available from the Arcade butchers in Hastings), watch this space – news soon…