Wi-Fi has changed the connector and cabling content in wireless local area networks. Here’s how different types of Wi-Fi are affecting, and sometimes displacing, connectivity products in LANs.
Wi-Fi – what would we do without it? It’s the first thing any Generation Y or Z person looks for when they walk into a new restaurant, home, or business. It seems their daily lives revolve around this now ubiquitous connection.
Wi-Fi, a term trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance, is a local area wireless technology that connects an electronic device to a computer network using 2.4GHz UHF and 5GHz SHF ISM radio bands. Wi-Fi is now synonymous with wireless local area networks (WLANs) and has spread into other frequency bands. Because connections to these networks are wireless, they have changed some connector and cabling content in the LAN.
IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Standards
WLANs got their start in the mid 1990s with the first standard, IEEE 802.11, released in 1997. The original release included two frequency bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. It has since expanded to 900MHz, 3.7GHz, and 60GHz, as well as the unused TV spectrum of 470-710MHz. The following table shows the progression of the standards.
The first uses for WLANs were additive to already existing wired networks to allow mobility of people and devices. Today, Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. Current networks are running combinations of IEEE 802.11b, g, n, and ac, though the majority are still combined g/n.
Wireless LANs are used for many different applications:
- Home: With the advent of broadband Internet service in the home, service providers now include wireless routers. Laptops, smartphones, music players, video gaming systems, printers, and now smart TVs all connect to the Internet through these Wi-Fi routers.
- Office: While WLANs were an optional add-on five years ago, they are a necessity today. Visitors and company employees must be connected with their laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
- Business: From hospitals that use wireless devices for patient care to restaurants that use them for food orders, WLANs are transporting data for business applications.
- Mobile phone offload: Smartphones were the game changer here. Once users started trying to download large video files or pictures on 3G networks, it brought them to a standstill. Wi-Fi offload saved them.
- Automobile: New cars are now being fit with Wi-Fi devices that can share information about maintenance issues.
- Medical sensors: Implantable devices let you communicate directly with your doctor.
- Wearables: From Fitbits for monitoring exercise and sleep to heart monitors, these devices have started to revolutionize healthcare by allowing wireless connections for instant analysis.
There are presently more wireless devices in the world than there are people. According to ABI Research, they grew to 16 billion in 2014 – that’s more than two devices per person, which is easy to believe since I have three myself (my laptop, phone, and tablet) and share others like the wireless router and wireless printer. By 2020, this number is expected to grow to 40.9 billion.
Looking at the laptop alone, we can see that Wi-Fi is affecting the connector industry. While each one still comes with a network connector, it is typically not being used except when sitting at a corporate office. In the home, what used to be a wired Ethernet connection using an RJ45 patch cord is almost exclusively a Wi-Fi connection today. And printers that once used USB peripheral cords tethered to a personal computer have become Wi-Fi devices on the network. While the actual network connectors really do not get lost entirely – at least a small number of them just move to wireless access points (WAPs) and wireless routers – the USB peripheral connections do disappear.
Since connector content moves to WAPs, it is advantageous to look at an example of current and emerging products. One of the most popular WAPs is the Cisco Aironet Series 802.11a/b/g/n. Each of its products only has one uplink Gigabit Ethernet port that connects back to the LAN switch. Its flagship product that covers large enterprises can handle up to 200 clients. That means that if an office using this wanted to go entirely wireless, it could save 199 Ethernet connections to the work-area outlet (WAO). This would include horizontal cabling from the telecommunications room (TR) to the WAO as well as save those switch ports. While this may be a good cost-cutting measure for the enterprise, it is not so good for the connectivity manufacturers making these products.
While most firms are not yet comfortable going entirely to Wi-Fi for computer connections, many are reducing that cabling from the TR to WAO to one instead of the two recommended by the TIA structured cabling standard. This one cable drop would feed into the voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone and then into the computer when it is actually in the office. In this scenario, horizontal structured cabling drops are cut in half and perhaps more if some of these employees are typically in the field as opposed to sitting at their desks (in which case even the VoIP phone gets eliminated).
The impact of the trend towards Wi-Fi-only networks is something that is clearly impacting connector sales. Currently, Bishop & Associates is studying the effect and a new report on the subject will be released later this year.
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