Trend: Wireless vs. Ethernet in the enterprise

Are we coming to the end of the line? As the lines between WLAN and Ethernet switch gears what connects end users continues to be blurred, and as Cisco, Nortel, 3Com and others are working to link these products into a seamless access system, the question of whether more enterprise users will access their enterprise network wirelessly or over wired Ethernet is becoming more of an issue. "I think WLAN will become the default network connection technology over next five to 10 years," says Craig Mathias, a communication maven and principal at the Farpoint Group. "I've always said that wireless should be thought of as an adjunct and not as a primary network. But we've made so much progress in the technology in recent years that there's no reason why we should not be thinking of it as a primary vehicle for access for anybody with a mobile device."

Market projections support Mathias' prediction that WLAN will overtake wired Ethernet as the preferred access method in many organizations. For example, IDC predicts that the total number of enterprise-class WLAN APs shipped world-wide will grow from 1.6 million in 2006 to 11.5 million by 2010. IDC also predicts that managed Ethernet switch ports will grow from 172 million to 208 million by 2010.

What will accelerate this trend toward wireless connectivity is 802.11n, which will increased the capacity of WLAN APs to support more users over a wider range at the same time that it bolsters security. "We'll see an improvement in throughput, range and reliability," Mathias says. "So at that point, there's probably no good reason not to use wireless."

For more on the trend toward enterprise wireless access
- see Phil Hochmuth's detailed NetworkWorld discussion

ALSO: You may want to download this new paper on denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on 802.11 networks.