Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wireless Networks in the Age of the iPad

Welcome to Multimedia-Grade!

A new age of handheld mobile devices and multimedia applications is driving a new Wi-Fi infrastructure. This blog will track the trends that are shaping this new network environment, promote best practices for retrofitting networks, and highlight activities from a new working group that I’m chairing dedicated to defining Multimedia-Grade Wi-Fi. The working group is made up of a cross-industry consortium of enterprise and education organizations interested in staying ahead of these trends.

We just hosted the first meeting. And to get everyone thinking more critically about just what it means to support video over Wi-Fi, we began with an open ended discussion on multimedia. As you can imagine, this revealed an interesting mix of concerns and comments.

Most notably, organizations are undergoing a monumental shift to mobile handheld devices like the iPad, iPhone, Droid, etc. One of the members, David Morton from Univ Washington, mentioned that ~25% of the wireless devices on their campus were now mobile handheld devices. How will a network scale to support this shift? What types of applications are most common? To what extent should we be allowing these to connect on our network? It will also be important to look at what issues have arisen sofar to determine what we can do to be more proactive.

Educational organizations make up a large percentage of this working group and have other unique interests that range from interactive learning to entertainment. There are quite a few people looking at the unique requirements for transitioning to multicast television services over Wi-Fi. Especially if you consider aspects of television like DVR functionality and on-demand movie services.  There is an initiative underway with Internet 2 to deliver multicast video to member organizations making the availability of "network ready" video even more viable.  One-way multicast and two-way RTP received much attention as some of the most challenging issues.

Security is a universal concern when we consider the increased presence of handheld multimedia devices. There is widespread concern around access provisioning for these new devices; many smart but some, quite frankly, pretty dumb.

Finally, is wireless the technology that will finally make good on the promise of “convergence”? At what point can you forgo deployment of coax and CAT5 in favor of Wi-Fi? Is performance and quality of service at a point where you can guarantee SLAs for voice and video? Of particular interest is high population areas and how well they scale into multimedia access. 

What do you think?  What excites you most about entering this age of the iPad?  What should we be looking out for? And what should we be doing today in anticipation of these changes? Go to comments and weigh in!

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