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Watching Wireless

I was recently shocked by the results of a Pro AV online poll in which nearly half of the respondents had never heard of 802.11n.

I was recently shocked by the results of a Pro AV online poll in which nearly half of the respondents had never heard of 802.11n. I know it's difficult to find the time to look beyond the horizon of current projects and day-to-day business, but at the rate of change we're seeing these days, watching developing technologies isn't just a luxury, it's a matter of survival.

802.11n is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) new standard for wireless transmission, and after three years of revisions, most analysts are predicting that a final draft could be approved by the end of this summer. At that point, we're looking at significant migration to wireless networks — especially in the corporate and education markets. Wireless has gained wide-scale acceptance in the consumer world, and there's no reason to believe it won't come to pro AV in a big way, too.

The increased data rates — some predict up to 600 Mb/s — claimed by 802.11n proponents indicates that we're well on our way to full wireless AV transmission. A mandatory feature of 802.11n is a concept known as “spatial diversity,” otherwise known as MIMO or multiple input, multiple output. Because it operates at a bandwidth of 40 MHz, the use of multiple channels means it's capable of broadcasting HD signals throughout a building, and through multiple walls. Many are already predicting 802.11n will become a key enabling technology for distributing video to multiple devices in a WLAN.

How many of you are preparing for this technology shift? Pro AV's research shows that the No. 1 most purchased category of equipment is cables and connectors. Pulling cable and making connections and terminations probably accounts for the majority of billable hours on most system installation projects. With so much of our cost structure built around the wired world, the predicted customer demand for wireless will present a disruptive influence on pro AV businesses.

Wireless AV transmission and networking may not make cables and connectors obsolete, but it will certainly require a new skill set. Time spent pulling cable will be replaced by conducting wireless site surveys. You'll be buying fewer connectors and less raw cable. Beyond inventory planning, it's imperative to invest in educating your workforce about wireless technologies — especially if a significant amount of your current business comes from the corporate or education markets, which are most likely to be early adopters of this technology.

We all need to watch developments in the progress of wireless technology — and any other technology — in order to be prepared for the potential effect on our business. The sky certainly isn't falling, and our industry isn't about to be eradicated, but if we want to control our destiny, rather than pick up leftovers from the IT community, we have to pay more attention to developing technologies.

Mark Mayfield


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