Four Generations of Wireless

Many IT organizations are understandably skeptical about wireless. The legacy microcell systems (the traditional single channel access point systems) installed in most enterprises have a reputation for complexity, poor security and lackluster performance. In a challenging business climate, few organizations want their IT departments to build out a new edge network simply for users’ convenience.

However, the reputation of these microcell wireless LANs was due to the technology and architectural immaturity. Innovation in the industry is happening so quickly that analyst firm Gartner recognizes four generations of wireless, progressing from proprietary systems through standalone access points to centralized management and finally Virtual Cell.

From Microcell to Virtual Cell

Most enterprise systems are still stuck in the second or third generation known as microcell, in which access points act like separate Ethernet hubs. Each has its own radio channel, its own coverage area and its own much larger interference zone in which it disrupts connectivity for others. The only way to simulate widespread coverage is to build overlapping microcells on different channels, an architecture based on cell phone systems of the 1980s. Wireless clients must guess which access point to connect to, then contend with other client devices for access to it.

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