Sep 04 2013

Does 802.11ac Wi-Fi Minimize Ethernet's Role?

With data transfer speeds as fast as wired connections, the latest wireless standard could make Ethernet a thing of the past.

One of the intriguing possibilities presented by 802.11ac is that its throughput speeds rival Ethernet — at least at first glance. The technology will support speeds as great as 1.3Gbps. However, as CDW Solution Architect Robert Wardin points out, a number of real-world variables enter the picture. Achieving maximum speed, for example, requires being situated close to the access point.

“As distance increases, speed decreases,” he notes. And while it’s more difficult to overwhelm 802.11ac technology with users, “It remains a shared medium and heavy demands on bandwidth can affect performance,” Wardin says.

Nevertheless, a growing number of organizations are eyeing or adopting 802.11ac networking. One of the big selling points is that it sidesteps the need to install Ethernet cable — a process that is both disruptive and expensive.

“There is often a huge infrastructure cost and labor savings associated with wireless technology,” Wardin says. No less important: The wireless technology allows users to connect to the network without regard to where they are located and it eliminates problems that can occur when there’s a shortage of outlets.

Ethernet won’t disappear, of course. Many organizations that already have it in place will continue to rely on it for years to come. But as more mobile devices invade the workplace, the vast majority of organizations have no choice but to add or boost wireless infrastructure. “Since many of today’s devices, including smartphones and tablets, don’t have Ethernet ports, the only way to connect is through Wi-Fi. It represents the present and future of business,” Wardin concludes.