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Mobility is the operative word for 2011, and Wi-Fi is in the thick of the action. Worldwide there are now more than 700 million people using 1 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices, says Edgar Figueroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and that user base is set to double by 2012. With 802.11n, wireless LANs can deliver throughput commensurate with copper networks, and new enhancements increase reliability.
So are businesses taking some of their 2011 budget increases and building robust back-end wireless networks to effectively support all of this gear? Our InformationWeek Analytics 2011 Wireless LAN Survey of 339 business technology professionals shows that 24% are either still evaluating or passing on 802.11 altogether, while 39% are using WLAN technology on a large scale and growing it, up from 35% last year. The remaining 37% are deploying WLANs for very specific uses only.
Our advice: Don't be caught napping when employees realize you're not helping them get maximum value from those Wi-Fi-enabled devices in their pockets. Yes, they can get access via carrier cellular networks. But as we'll discuss in more depth, despite evolving carrier upgrades from circuit-switched technologies to data-switched methods like HSPA+ and LTE, bandwidth demand will continue to outstrip supply. Carriers themselves are exploring ways to improve the user experience by off-loading some data traffic to higher-bandwidth Wi-Fi networks.
Our take is that four factors will soon make tethered user networking as we know it passé for all but the most security-conscious enterprises.
>> Demand: In our March InformationWeek Analytics 2010 Mobile Device Management and Security Survey, we asked whether portable, mobile, or fixed-location devices would grow as a percentage of all end user gear over the coming two years. Just 8% said they expect to see more desktops. The top answer (87% of respondents) was that mobile devices, including smartphones, will become more prevalent; 68% cited portable devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets). The reasons for this shift are many, but business leaders continue to see mobility and collaboration as good for the bottom line.
Though hard-dollar benefits are subjective, intuitively they're difficult to deny. Like it or not, employees will relentlessly push IT to support more, and more varied, wireless gadgets in the workplace. The increased demand will stretch your 11a/b/g network to the limit.