Although security fears continue to hold back Wireless local area network (WLAN) deployments, the technology is slowly becoming established as a mainstream enterprise solution, according to industry analysts.
The latest study by Infonetics Research, based on analysis of 240 small, medium, and large organizations using WLANs, expects that the number of laptops connected to both the wired and wireless Lans will increase sharply between now and 2006.
According to the report, User Plans for Wireless Lans, North America 2004, security continues to be the number-one barrier to the adoption of wireless Lans, but organizations have begun to understand the threats and make better use of the robust security features vendors have developed over the last year.
"Vendors are doing a good job of improving security features, and users are getting a grip on wireless security, but all threats are still considered important, and vendors continually need to address the lingering perception that wireless LANs are insecure," said Richard Webb, Infonetics Research's directing analyst for wireless LANs.
WLAN switches and other new products are beginning to make an impact as well: real-time administration of access control, followed by the ability to create and apply policies online, were found to lead the list of important features. Cross-subnet roaming support is also strongly rated by the study's respondents.
Email and web browsing were found to be the most popular mobile or location-based applications used over the WLAN, followed by wireless intranet.
Infonetics noted that a particularly promising area of WLAN application development is the extension of voice over IP telephony solutions over wireless LANs (VoWLAN). Only 8 per cent of all wireless LAN respondents use VoWLAN now, but the report predicts that this figure will jump to 27 per cent by August 2006.
"There are several handset vendors who have launched Wi-Fi enabled VoIP handsets, and with draft standards for quality coming, performance of VoWLAN is improving all the time, driving growth of this market," said Webb.
"The ability to carry voice makes wireless LAN investment more justifiable and mobility makes VoIP more valuable, so it is natural that the two technologies are converging toward a powerful mobile voice solution."