Monday, August 13, 2007

More WiFi, More Problems

Get ready for more residents bringing home wireless-ready consumer electronics products... and the increase in unit-to-unit interference that will surely follow.

According to a report published last week by ABI Research, the popularity of wireless routers and devices using the new high-speed 802.11n standard will soon spill over to CE products like home theater systems and cable set-top boxes, outpacing other networking technologies.

The electronics vendors see WiFi as an easy way to get consumers' digital media delivered to their devices. As consumers increasingly look to bring Internet video into the living room and share their music and videos between rooms, older WiFi technologies simply don't have the bandwidth to deliver this content, particularly over longer ranges.

802.11n is supposed to help alleviate these constraints. PC manufacturers are shifting to 802.11n gear, and consumer electronics manufacturers are expected to follow suit in a big way.

Running Interference
The problem for multifamily property owners enters when many residents start trying to build these networks on top of each other in a densely populated area. (I was in a condo last week where I could see 42 different wireless networks from one unit!)

In addition to competing networks, there are other sources of interference, such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and even mirrors, that also pose problems for Wi-Fi gear and leave networks with poor range or intermittent connectivity.

The new wireless standard promises much faster speeds and a stronger resistance to this interference, but there are potential issues when used in conjunction with current wireless standards. Plus, there just aren't enough channels available to keep up in a 250-unit property full of tech-savvy young residents, especially as more devices become WiFi-enabled as predicted.

Manage Expectations
There aren't very many good answers available to property owners, but you should start by asking a lot of questions of your property's ISP or WiFi provider. Realize that wireless isn't 100% perfect, but your provider should commit to a minimum acceptable service level. They may even be able to remotely manage the network from their operations center to help minimize any problems with interference. (This is a service that more property owners should be asking for.) In any case, leave the networking to the professionals... it can be more of a hassle and expense than it's worth to try to be your own wireless service provider.

One thing is for sure: As wireless networking becomes more prevalent and compatible devices become increasingly ubiquitous, property owners will need to offer some level of WiFi (residents will bring their own if you don't), but should set clear expectations for residents that it's not a perfect technology.

Are you offering WiFi access at your property? Which service providers are offering the most creative solutions to this unique problem?

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