In anticipation of the final ratification of 802.11n on September 11th, VeriWave last month released the latest version of its wireless testing solution, WaveAgent 2.0. We spoke with Eran Karoly, VeriWave’s vice president of marketing, to discuss the ratification of 802.11n and its impact on the wireless market in general, and on VeriWave in particular.
Question: Why the delay in 802.11n ratification?
“With 802.11n, for the first time, the technical community was starting to talk about wireless technology that will offer speeds in excess of 100 Mbps, and therefore will compete with and will have the same capabilities as an Ethernet network—so the effect on the enterprise user could be significant. That led to many, many vendors jumping into the standardization process—and everybody had their own agenda, because I think it was clear to all of them, and I’m starting from the chip vendors here, that we’re talking about a significant business opportunity… and so of course everybody wanted to push their own version of the standard—which is perfectly legit. That just caused the standardization to take a lot longer than anybody expected at the time.”
Q: Why was 802.11n finally ratified?
“We, as a test vendor, speak to many, many IT departments, service providers, and private network operators, and we consistently hear the message, ‘As an IT department or a private network operator, we cannot afford to make a significant investment in a technology, which is not a standard’… So a significant amount of pent-up demand has been building up here by those users waiting for the standard. Eventually, of course, that pushes back onto the stakeholders, and they realize it’s in their best interest to get to that compromise.”
Q: What impact will it have on ratification?
“From a pure technical perspective, the impact is going to be pretty insignificant. The Draft N standard that has been around now for over a year is working well: practically everybody has adopted it. I don’t see significant technical changes or improvements because the standard is now ratified. It’s mostly a level of comfort—and that’s what the IT manager needs: they need a level of comfort to know that what they’re getting is accepted by the industry and has the official blessing of a standards organization, such as the IEEE.”
Q: How will the ratification affect VeriWave?
“Our 802.11n test solution has been on the market since December of 2007, so we have already more than a year and a half of 802.11n test product being used by the industry. Now, for a lot of that time…the use of that test equipment has been mainly in the developer community, the chipset and equipment manufacturers—but for the last six months or so, we’ve seen a tremendous pull from the end user community, from the network operators, the network owners, the IT departments, to start delivering test systems to them as they see the ratification of the standard approaching. And what we have done lately is we’ve added an over-the-air test component for interoperability and over-the-air testing to our solution… [WaveAgent 2.0] completes the VeriWave solution, now allowing the same test methodologies to be used all the way from chip development to access point development and quality assurance, to client device development and quality assurance testing, all the way to proof of concept testing, over-the-air interoperability testing, and eventually, final testing before a network is turned on.”
Q: How will 802.11n affect an all-wireless office?
“The promise of an 802.11n network is the ability to take a business and turn it into an all-wireless office… and there’s a number of benefits to [that]. One, the cost of deploying a network connection to an employee is significantly lower. On average, industry research has shown that to bring an Ethernet network connection or port to an employee costs anywhere between $800 and $2,000 per drop. Now, that includes everything—that includes the cost of the switch and router, it includes the cost of pulling the cable—all-inclusive, it’s between $800 and $2,000. When you deploy an access point, and that access point serves, let’s say, 20 to 25 employees simultaneously, the cost per employee drops to around $100. That’s a significant savings…The second promise is that users, and I include myself in that, we expect mobility now. We expect to be able to use the network anywhere we go within the office building…we want to use the network in a conference room, in another person’s office, and so on—and that mobility is afforded by a wireless network.”
Q: How has the market changed since VeriWave’s founding?
“The market has expanded in some interesting ways, and some of them may have not been exactly what you would have predicted initially. From the initial customer base, which was access point manufacturers and chip vendors, we then went into the market of client devices, those devices that are connecting to the wireless network. Initially, those were mostly laptops. Now, it’s smartphones and other mobile devices—but an interesting new area for us is all of those client devices, which connect to the network, which are what I would refer to as machine-to-machine interactions, such as patient monitors, such as infusion devices in hospitals, such as asset tracking, RFID asset tracking, such as wireless printers, wireless security cameras, and so on and so forth—our customer base has increased significantly with those types of users.”
“In the past, testing a network was limited to a very small number of metrics that were observed… typically, throughput, forwarding rate, loss, and latency: very academic measures of how the network behaves. However, now we see that changing, and there is a stronger focus on measuring end-user quality of experience. So instead of just measuring how fast the network runs…the focus now is changing to how does the network behave from the perspective of the end-user…. If I want to watch YouTube on my smartphone running over the wireless network, I don’t really care what the throughput number is or what the latency number is. I care about how long it takes for the YouTube video to load, and how consistent the video is—is it choppy, is it smooth, can I get the high quality version of it?… over the last year and a half, we’ve been adding a lot more of those quality of experience metrics to what we offer.”
Q. What should we anticipate in the coming year?
“I think that 2010 is going to be the year when we see that pent-up demand for the all-wireless office happening, and exploding…we expect to have a lot more end-user customers, we are going to be involved a lot more in vendor selection test scenarios, a lot more in prequalification of live networks before they’re turned on to users—and we are going to address that market: we’re going to offer new products that help test networks before they’re deployed, before they’re turned on, as well as ongoing network monitoring and network health checking while the network is already active. So it’s definitely going to change our customer base into that community—into the end-user community.”
Jeff Goldman is a veteran technology journalist and a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet.