It’s said that the IT business moves at about seven times the speed of most other industries. By that reckoning, there’s been about more change and innovation in the last 20 years of computing as there has been in the entire history of the automotive or aviation industries.
If we just look at the subset of wireless communications, the last 15 years have seen the introduction of Wi-Fi, the shift from multiple networking protocols to the emergence of TCP/IP, the consumerisation of routers and 100-fold increases in wired network speeds in our offices and homes. You’d think that the pace would have slackened by now, but the reverse is true. As we become increasingly dependent on connectivity between our devices, there has been increasing pressure on manufacturers to drive more value out of our networking gear.
Wireless goes Gigabit
Remember how just a couple of years ago we were all wondering if the 802.11n wireless protocol was ever going to be finalised? Well, no sooner did 802.11n get the IEEE stamp of approval its successor showed up. Get ready for a raft of new products brandishing the 802.11ac standard.
802.11ac differs from its predecessors as it no longer supports the 2.4GHz frequency range. That means older computers and smartphones won’t be able to connect. If you’ve been saving your pennies and only buying single-band 802.11n gear, when 802.11ac becomes common you’ll need to upgrade to hardware that can work with the 5GHz frequency band.
The main benefit you’ll see touted will be speed. 802.11ac will be rated for at least 1Gbps – more than 50 percent faster than the best you can expect from 802.11n. In some cases, by using multiple antennas to aggregate signals it’s possible that wireless connections will approach 4Gbps.
Power over Ethernet
As we begin to hang more devices on our networks, it will become trickier to power all those devices. For example, in our office we have a networked security camera and VoIP telephone service. Rather than having to run or provide power to each device, we’re using Power over Ethernet (PoE). Essentially, we’re using our data network as a local electricity distribution system.
PoE has been around in the enterprise for some time but we’re expecting it to be a bigger presence in consumer and SME gear. Fewer cables means less mess and far easier installation and maintenance.
Ethernet over power
If you’re having trouble extending your network at home or in the office, then it’s worth considering HomePlug. These are devices that connect to a power outlet and provide an Ethernet connection that uses your premises’ electrical cabling for data transmission.
When we first looked at HomePlug gear the speeds were quite ordinary but newer devices are rated for up to 500Mbps, making them an easy way to expand your LAN.
What about the NBN?
Do you need to worry about new gear when the NBN is eventually rolled out to your home or office? In a nutshell – no.
Although the NBN promises faster connectivity to the internet, the situation within your network isn’t all that different to how things are today with ADSL and cable. NBNCo will provide a new device that connects your home to the fibre optic network. You can then connect your own router (or one that could be provisioned by your ISP – remember, NBNCo isn’t an ISP, it just provides the infrastructure) and your own network.
However, as the NBN is potentially much faster than your current service, it makes sense to think about upgrading your gear so that your internal network isn’t a bottleneck to internet access.
Here is our Wi-Fi router Group Test rundown for your home or business:
CONS: Annoying setup process.
CONS: No Gigabit.
Apple AirPort Extreme
CONS: Only three Ethernet ports.
NetComm NP504 Powerline Adapters
Cyberoam NetGenie Home
CONS: No Gigabit; no dual-band wireless.
D-Link DIR-605L with mydlink
CONS: No Gigabit.