I've been writing about wireless LANs since the late 90's when they first started to gain traction with the finalization of the 802.11b standard. It was clear at the time that this was ground-breaking technology and if they got it right the way we communicate would be changed forever.
Well, it's nine years later and I'm still greatly disappointed. Yes, WLANs have proliferated and it's clearly had the anticipated effect. Like we all predicted at the time, almost every consumer device is getting WLAN connectivity and wireless nomadic computing is the modus operandi for anyone with a laptop.
That said, what's ailing me are the extremely poor network management capabilities. For years I've been bombarded by company XYZ with the next big thing in Wi-Fi network manageability that would allow (pick a number) of users to connect simultaneously and securely without any dropped connections and at almost full 11/54/108-Mbit/s rates. Yeah, right.
Being a forgiving sort of soul, I expected it would take time for those little details to be worked out. But in my mind, the time is way past run out. I've rarely been so disappointed in technology than I was at this year's 3GSM conference. Granted, it's a forum for cellular, not Wi-Fi, technology, but the pressroom's WLAN connectivity was a complete disaster. Connections couldn't be made if the number of journalists/editors was anywhere near capacity and the rates, once connected, were horrendous. And as for VPNs, fuhgeddaboudit!
I'm not going to get into who the company was that provided the Wi-Fi connection there because it's irrelevant. The problem is global. Hotels, public hotspots, the enterprise, everywhere WLANs are supposed to be readily accessible you go into it with the half expectation that it won't work, particularly when guests arrive back after shows and capacity increases. It's always a pleasant surprise when it actually does work.
We're way beyond that 'pleasant surprise' stage now. Despite the idiosyncrasies of RF propagation,WLANs should be, for the most part, free of connection and management errors. Quite frankly, fiascos like 3GSM are an out and out disgrace and an affront to all those, both within the IEEE 802.11 group and outside of it, who have worked so hard over the past 16 years to make WLANs possible. Get it together folks.Time is up.