Wearable technology seems to have taken off in our office over the last few weeks. Everyone is using these wonderful little gizmos predominantly as a fitness enhancement, to keep track of steps taken, calories burnt and a multitude of other health based measurements that I’m sure are useful to them in some capacity.
I could also delve into the irony of how they also can’t be bothered to now physically pick up their mobile to look at messages, as they’re displayed on their wrist, but perhaps that is a subject better left for another time.
With this sudden uptake in new devices it got me thinking about the impact this could have on our wireless network, and from there the wireless medium in general. In particular, it got me thinking of how this is a shining example of just how adaptive and ever-changing the wireless landscape is, and how rapidly this transition can come into play, presenting its own unique challenges.
Upon researching further into these gadgets it seems all of the variations (at least that I’m aware of) are syncing up with the parent device using Bluetooth 4.0, and lo and behold, this means that they are all operating out of the 2.4GHz spectrum.
For those out there that aren’t aware, the 2.4GHz band is already a hotly contested medium. There are the multitude of devices that communicate using this particular medium, such as video bridges, cordless phones, Bluetooth and of course, Wi-Fi. There are also those that just shout loudly and ruin the signal for everyone, as is the case with microwave ovens, the bane of any WLAN professional’s deployment.
So, back to our nifty fitness devices, and the inevitable lectures from colleagues on how much healthier I could be. Now of course, Bluetooth itself has built in mechanisms to try and avoid causing interference on your WLAN, but with only three non-overlapping channels available to play with, and a vast array of interference sources congesting the medium, it’s fair to assume that in a deployment of any significant density we are adding more and more overhead to an already over-utilised spectrum, ultimately causing a degradation in performance and reliability.
This only serves to further highlight the need to research the clients that a network manager wishes to deploy or service, depending on the requirements. The amount of devices I still come across that only support 2.4GHz is significant, if not in the majority, and without fail the administrators have been unaware of this fact. In this day and age it is often assumed (reasonably so) that the devices purchased would naturally support both bands, but unfortunately when looking for cost-effective devices certain compromises have to be made, and often this includes the capability of the wireless card. For most end users, the client’s capability to connect reliably and quickly to a network is just as important as the client’s capability to run various applications, so surely this should be one of the first things that we assess?
Many, if not all, Enterprise WLAN vendors support various mechanisms to improve 5GHz distribution, for example band steering, which encourages favourable distribution of clients between the two frequencies. However, from a deployment standpoint the biggest and most overlooked factor by far is proper design. My good friend Neil McRae has written an insightful blog on this particular subject and I would thoroughly recommend giving it a read, regardless of whether you’re looking at deploying a new WLAN or maintaining an existing one.
What I’ve surmised from all of this is that the decline of the 2.4GHz spectrum for wireless usage may be accelerating further still. The IEEE are attempting to gain more 5GHz channels by getting various legal regulatory regions to release them for our use, though this does differ based on your geographical location as to what’s available. Add to that the latest wireless standard, 802.11ac, only operating in the 5GHz too, and it might not be too long before 2.4GHz is a thing of the past.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bring in several packets of biscuits again and leave them strategically around the office. If I’m going to get guilt tripped into joining this health movement I’m going to make them work for it first!