With an increasing number of employees bringing wireless devices to work, some network managers dream of an all-wireless network at the enterprise edge.
However, a wireless expert at Hewlett-Packard Canada says that’s not coming soon.
“Not this year,” Stephane Laroche, senior wireless architect for HP’s networking division told reporters in Montreal this week.
There’s no reason to make room-sized telepresence suites wireless, he added, and for security reasons some business applications might always have to be run on a wired network.
Still, organizations should look at their infrastructure and see where getting rid of a wired connection makes sense, he said.
“At some point in the future you may be all wireless,” he said. But “before we get there the technology has to mature.”
Some organizations think the impending release of the next generation of Wi-Fi, which double throughput to bring gigabit speeds to wireless, is the key.
However, Laroche said finalization of the standard, (formally known by the IEEE as 802.11ac), isn’t expected until next year. Some makers of access points for consumers will release 802.11ac devices using a draft standard this year, but HP won’t because enterprise buyers want a stable product. He also said HP won’t release an access point that hasn’t been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Besides, he added, the corporate demand for gigabit wireless isn’t here yet. HP believes the current generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11n, which offers download speeds under ideal conditions of around 400 Megabits per second, will be around for several more years.
Even after gigabit wireless takes off, network managers won’t totally embrace Wi-FI, he predicts, because a technology is that uses unlicenced spectrum is inherently unstable. “You have to accept some downtime” in a Wi-Fi network, he said.
Laroche’s outlook on wireless was part of a tour he led for technology reporters through HP’s Montreal wireless lab, a legacy of its 2008 purchase of wireless access point maker Colubris Networks, which was based in that city.
The lab now focuses on software development for access points, while hardware development is done elsewhere.
The R&D lab, located on the second floor of a suburban office building, is one of six HP has around the world.
Laroche wouldn’t say how many engineers the Montreal lab employs. But there is a data centre with racks of non-transmitting access points that run software configurations for hours. For stress-testing transmitting-capable AP’s, there are two specially-isolated rooms with more racks of equipment.
For real-world testing HP works with an unnamed North American university, Laroche said, where it can set up hundreds of access points.
Wi-Fi products HP [NYSE: HPQ] makes aren’t just for offices. It also makes an outdoor AP for carriers with a rugged enclosure that can stand up to salt air.
Although the lab demands engineers with wireless skills, Laroche said it isn’t hard to find candidates in Montreal, where there is a pool of talent.
HP’s wireless solutions include products derived from Colubris and HP’s purchase of 3Com, such as the MSM Dual Radio Access Points, a unique in-wall AP the size of an electrical outlet for hotels and university dorms, and wireless controllers.
One industry analyst, Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research, doesn’t think HP has done much with these wireless assets. Whether measured by market share by revenue or ports HP is “well behind the market leaders,” he said.
According to Dell’Oro Group, at the end of 2011 HP was third in enterprise WLAN sales with 7.3 per cent of the market. Aruba Networks was second with 12.3 per cent of revenue and Cisco Systems Inc. was the leader with 53.2 per cent of revenues.
But Laroche said he is satisfied HP has done well with Colubris and its staff. “We’ve been able to more products forward with the help of the HP umbrella,” he said, and “able to cover and enter more markets.”
Wireless growth of HP products, he added, “has been very high.”