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802.11n could be a game changer in 2008

802.11n represents a wireless "perfect storm" because equipment using the standard will marry fast wireless networking with quality of service and security.

We have a lot of geeky labels in our industry, and one of my new favorites is IEEE 802.11n. Just what do these letters and numbers mean? Simply stated, 802.11n is the latest revision of the wireless networking standard. Heck, it's so new that the standard hasn't even been ratified. That hasn't stopped the vendors from getting products to market. Aruba, Cisco Systems, Meru, and Trapeze are already shipping 802.11n-compliant Access Points (APs) and controllers.

Without going into technical detail, 802.11n drastically increases wireless data rates from 54 megabits per second (delivered by the existing 802.11g standard) to 248 megabits per second. Great in itself, but technology always gets better, faster, and cheaper so this isn't earth-shattering. The real news is that 802.11n represents a wireless "perfect storm" in that 802.11n equipment will marry fast wireless networking with quality of service, network identity, security, and application support. What's more, 802.11n will fit neatly with cellular and WiMax to form a seamless mobile WAN architecture. Think secure connectivity from any device, any network, and any location.

This makes 802.11n a potential big deal. Unlike earlier Wi-Fi standards, 802.11n could be a game changer in several ways:

1. The "all wireless network." With 802.11n, there may be no need for wired Ethernet edge switches anymore. This could make pure plays like Aruba, Meru, and Trapeze into very big companies over the next five years.

2. As 802.11n merges with cellular and WiMax networks, it could really create new service provider/enterprise opportunities for vendors like Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, and Nortel Networks. This is another reason why Cisco grabbed WiMax start-up Navini Networks in October.

3. Margin-hungry service providers like AT&T, Level 3, and Verizon could offer a number of new managed services for a seamless mobile access network in the enterprise. The transition to 802.11n may be their ticket in the enterprise door.

Let me be the first, or at least an early industry insider, to put 802.11n on the list of "technologies to watch in 2008." Yes, mobility and hot spots are great, but 802.11n may be the wireless standard that turns the enterprise networking market on its head.