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What we have is a majority cabled network, CAT5e/CAT6 and fibre running at 1Gbps throught. Some wireless access points dot the buildings and supply Wi-Fi to where it is needed.

Client now wants to install wireless APs everywhere (throwing out the existing cables) and bridges to new locations instead of fibre cables and CAT6 connections to static PCs because "it is faster, cheaper, future-proof and more efficient"

I understand having wireless for hard to reach places, for isolated devices and even for mobile devices. But for a new building that is going to be running a full office of 25+ PCs and printers?

1) Is this guy a nutjob? Or am I crazy for wanting to stick with a cabled solution for static devices?

2) Even the new 802.11ac with the right PCIe cards, will it match up to a 1Gbps fibre/copper connection?

3) Would a 802.11n 5GHz bridge be better than a fibre "bridge" for the 25 PCs on the other side?

WHY is cabling better than Wi-Fi? Is it the speed at which the data flows through the medium? Copper vs glass vs air? Does wireless have to jump through extra hoops to get the data sent?

Apparently finances are not an issue. I wanted to put in a 10Gbps backbone network but that got laughed at... even though it would be cheaper than the wireless overhaul that he wants...

I need some good reasons why wireless would not be as good a decision as wired.

  • What do you mean by "static PC?" A non-laptop computer that stays put? – Ted Quanstrom May 16 '16 at 14:46
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1) Is this guy a nutjob? Or am I crazy for wanting to stick with a cabled solution for static devices?

I would say no, not a nutjob. Nor are you crazy for wanting to keep cabling where possible. However, this is not a totally unreasonable request although it goes a bit further than it probably should. Since the network is already in place, some sort of "happy medium" would probably work here.

There are several things that are driving this type of request:

  1. In the past 5-8 years, people have become much more highly mobile and like it that way. Many end users now have multiple devices they carry that are wireless from the standard smart phone and tablet to a whole slew of other gadgets (watches, light bulbs, speakers, and so on). While wireless used to be a nice convenience, today it is often a requirement to have reliable, fast wireless where ever they expect to go.
  2. People hate cables. Mice, keyboards, network, and other connections are widely expected to be wireless. Sure, that laptop may be pretty mobile, but people hate having to connect and disconnect cables every time they want to move. They don't like the messy look of cables that often results at most desks even with "desktop" computers. They like to change the furniture layout in their office and the ports are no longer where they "should be" adding to the inconvenience and possible mess.
  3. As a result of the above, many devices today do not come with a wired network interface installed. Without things like a wired network port, laptops/tablets can be made much thinner than if they had one installed. Battery life is extended by having once less device built in to keep powered. And from the manufacturers viewpoint, the less hardware they have to put into a device, the cheaper it is to manufacture.

2) Even the new 802.11ac with the right PCIe cards, will it match up to a 1Gbps fibre/copper connection?

3) Would a 802.11n 5GHz bridge be better than a fibre "bridge" for the 25 PCs on the other side?

These are ultimately both the same question but looking at different connections and the answer is the same for both. No. A wireless connection is not as good as a wired connection in almost all cases.

However the question shouldn't be "is it as good" but rather "is it sufficient to meet the client's needs (current and future)?" Having computers for every user with 64GB RAM, 4TB SSD storage (with RAID of course), the best CPU & GPU on the market and multiple large displays is probably certainly better than what they are currently using, but it is also probably overkill for what is actually needed.

Having a solid cabling plant providing the backbone that provides service to the APs themselves is important. Since they already have a reasonably solid cable plant, moderate upgrades and added wireless coverage/capacity would seem to be in order here.

WHY is cabling better than Wi-Fi? Is it the speed at which the data flows through the medium? Copper vs glass vs air? Does wireless have to jump through extra hoops to get the data sent?

You can definitely still get much higher speeds on copper/fiber than you can wireless. Generally speaking, fiber > copper > RF. But again, is it really speed the client is looking for?

Cabling is also more "stable" than wireless. 802.3 is much more mature and standardized. It isn't changing as quickly, is relatively simple in comparison and as a result doesn't run into many of the client inter-operability problems that can occur on wireless.

Cabling can also be more secure than wireless. RF energy sent out of a device is not limited to only reaching the intended device(s). Other devices can see and potentially make use of this information.

Yes, wireless has additional overhead and there are other limitations with how 802.11 operates.

Client now wants to install wireless APs everywhere (throwing out the existing cables) and bridges to new locations instead of fibre cables and CAT6 connections to static PCs because "it is faster, cheaper, future-proof and more efficient"

The the specific claims of the client:

  • Faster : simply not true. Wired is currently faster in nearly all cases, even if you can use the full capabilities of 802.11ac on both the AP and client. This claim should be easy to refute.
  • Cheaper : you may want to start by reading my answer posted to a similar question. While it is now almost three years old, many of the same principles apply. But if you are comparing providing brand new service to multiple end users, this is certainly true in some senses. Cabling is expensive, switch ports are expensive, and if you can serve multiple devices off of one (to an AP) then those costs are lower.
  • Future-proof : again, true to a degree. Going back to my point #3 above, many devices no longer come with a network port. They expect wireless service to be available, so the request does take into account this need.
  • More efficient : I guess this would depend on how one measures "efficiency." Much like statistics, if you change the "measure" you change which is more efficient.

Again, I would personally propose some sort of happy medium here. Provide the full wireless coverage the client desires, but also propose upgrades to the current infrastructure that will benefit both the additional wireless support and the existing wired connections.

There is no reason to "throw out" the existing network. Make use of it where it makes sense (printers, copiers, servers, shared storage, etc) and enable the client's end users to be more mobile by losing the wires.

Just make sure you do it right and provide the correct information along the way. You did say that finances weren't an issue, so if it performs accurately to what you told the client, has the problems you warned them may occur, and they aren't happy, they shouldn't be upset about paying you more to transition some or all of the devices back to the wired network.

  • I have never had an issue with wireless, where it makes sense. So I agree that a middle-ground needs to be found. Put in APs where APs are sufficient, and cables where cables are needed. I need more information about where he wants to go in the future. Is it more tower PCs or notebooks. If it is towers, then I am going to lean a little more on cables than wireless. If notebooks, then ensure the wireless is sufficient but not replacing the cables for other network devices. Adding a wireless device later is easy. Adding additional cabling later is not as easy. – Demonwolf May 17 '16 at 5:56
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I generally agree with you that a wired solution is superior to a wireless building assuming that PCs aren't moving around a lot and it's not purely a purely BYOD environment.

1) You already have a cabled solution; why tear it out to make way for an interference-prone wireless network? At the very least keep the existing infrastructure in place as a fallback if the wireless doesn't work as smoothly.

2) Are you buying wireless PCI cards for full-sized towers? This part seems silly to me. You already have an onboard NIC obviously.

3) Fiber is king in my opinion. It is secure, scalable and not prone to electrical interference of any kind.

-For an office of 25 nodes 10 gbps fiber is totally unnecessary. 1 gbps should be more than enough for that number of users unless they're doing something unusual with all that bandwidth.

  • If finances are not an issue it sounds to me like this could be (already is, I guess) a hybrid environment. However, if the client wants wireless then I guess the client wants wireless. A wireless test/assessment would be a good start here: hire someone to check the site for interference and noise. Perhaps that alone will help answer the question as to whether the site is a good candidate.
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There are really two different questions here :

  • Can a wireless network be used as the primary connection method for users on a medium-to-large facility? => I would answer "yes, absolutely"
  • Can said wireless network entirely replace the wired network? Outside of the obvious requirement to connect the APs to something, being able to count on having absolutely everything be wireless is a tall order. IP Phones, printers, badge readers, security cameras... all those devices are still tricky to find and/or operate in a wireless-ready version.

With the advances in wireless tech over the past few years, the reliability and performance of WiFi are such that the average user probably won't notice the difference in day to day work. So in practice, to answer your question 2), 802.11ac may not quite match a full wired Gig port, but only a very few users could possibly generate enough traffic to notice.

However, it remains much more complex than wired networking, and requires a great many more parts to be in working order. You can have interference issues, transmit power issues, PC driver issues, authentication issues... that for the most part just don't occur on a wired network. So wireless is going to cost more to manage day-to-day, just because of the number of things that can go wrong.

Regarding your question 3) for an inter-building bridge, I would definitely go with fibre, using wireless only if I had no other options, for all the reasons I mentioned above (reliability mostly)

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