Growth of tablets will strain Wi-Fi networks

March 3, 2011 7:29:39 PM PST
Analysts, such as Forrester and Gartner, are projecting that Apple could sell 24 to 27 million iPads this year. That doesn't include other tablets made by Motorola, Samsung and other competitors. Most will be Wi-Fi models that depend on getting Internet access from networks at work, at home, at hotels and restaurants, and even medical centers and schools. Experts are warning that many users will be disappointed by the performance of those tablets as Wi-Fi network traffic rises sharply.

Jack Gold, an analyst in Massachusetts, says users will probably blame the tablet makers. However, the problem is most likely to be an old Wi-Fi network that is not designed for the proliferations of tablets.

Steven Glapa, senior director of field marketing at Ruckus Wireless in Sunnyvale, says many coffee shops and restaurants deployed low-cost, minimal networks so customers can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. They will not be able to propagate the signals required to provide peak performance with the rotation of tablets from portrait to landscape mode, or vice versa. Tablets are also made to move, be passed around or to be held while walking. Old networks were designed for laptops to sit in one spot on a table. Ruckus is on the forefront of deploying the next generation of Wi-Fi networks to meet the demand of tablets, using more antennas and specialized software.

Glapa says there will be "mission critical" locations where new networks will need to be rolled out, such as medical institutions and schools where hundreds of tablets might be in use at one time.

Westminister Promotions, which runs a start-up incubator in Sunnyvale, had to upgrade its Wi-Fi network recently with the help of Ruckus. At any one time, users might be using or testing applications over Wi-Fi using multiple devices simultaneously. Steve McKinney, the corporate network manager, says the new generation of Wi-Fi technology is enabling that to happen with reliability.

Until more advanced Wi-Fi networks are rolled out, tablet users may find performance will vary greatly from location to location.