Articles abound on how wireless is taking the enterprise by storm. As network administrators upgrade their wireless connections to meet the latest standard, wireless networking equipment is selling rapidly, while traditional wired networking equipment sales continue to chug along at the normal rate. It would be easy to conclude that wireless will soon overtake wired connections in the enterprise.

However, wired still rules for business purposes, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Certainly, the network administrator is well advised to provide wireless services, at least in some areas of the facilities. It's good to have those for guests and business partners who come to the office, as well as visiting customers and your own workers who bring wireless devices. Wireless connections are more or less expected in break areas and outdoor recreational areas.

But the wired connection isn't being replaced. It's merely being supplemented. Here's why.

Why Wired Connections Rule the Enterprise

In most cases, speed trumps convenience for business purposes. While the network administrator may face the occasional snide comment about "outdated Internet connections" by those not in the know, most users understand that to achieve the high level of performance they need to do their jobs, wired connections are the way to go.

Wireless connection speeds simply can't compete with wired connections. Though the latest wireless standards, in theory, are not unimpressive, good luck getting those speeds outside a laboratory environment. When it comes to a network jam packed with users accessing tons of applications, most with highly visual interfaces, well, wireless just can't compete with a good ole Ethernet cable.

Ethernet cables are also pretty cheap, especially in the enterprise where the network administrator can justify ordering cables in larger quantities. Furthermore, most wired network stuff is basically plug and play. Once it's hooked up, there isn't a tremendous amount of configuration and fiddling around involved. This ease makes the network administrator's life a lot easier.

But perhaps the most significant advantage of wired connectivity is the security. While there are some decent enterprise-class wireless systems that can offer decent security, when it comes to the kind of security most enterprises need to protect their primary data stores and mission-critical applications, wireless just doesn't cut it.

The Downsides of All-Wireless Connectivity

Wired isn't perfect, though. Cords can get damaged, and it's not that easy to have a wired connection available for every single device that happens to wander in the front door. But the main reason that wired systems aren't likely to be retired anytime soon is even more practical than that: no business in their right mind is going to rip out or discard all that legacy infrastructure for no reason whatsoever. As long as those wires and cables are doing their thing, the network administrator has no intention of ripping it out and replacing it with all wireless connections.

The Benefits of Wireless Connections for Business

It's expected that the network administrator will provide some wireless hotspots around the office, particularly in break areas and places where guests tend to linger. But these connections are merely for convenience. The wired network is still the workhorse of the enterprise, providing security and performance that outpaces wireless networks by leaps and bounds.

There are some arguments for all wireless connections, however. Primarily, it's rather convenient not to have to provide a place to plug up every single device. Whether your environment is BYOD or still company-owned devices, it's probable that most or all of your own employees have mobile devices they need to use during the day. All visitors come in expecting instant and easy Internet access via wireless, and most facilities are designed to make it difficult for cellular service to penetrate deeply into the bowels of the building.

Why Wireless Has a Ways to Go to Overtake Wired Connections in the Enterprise

Ethernet cables are relatively cheap, and most businesses already have a legacy network in place based on wired connectivity. The network administrator has better things to do than rip out existing infrastructure. If it ain't broke, don't go trying to fix it.

But the disadvantages of wireless connections are too numerous to make an argument for all-wireless connections in the enterprise at this point. Signal ranges are still rather limited, making it difficult to provide reliable connectivity across large office complexes. There are also too many elements in the modern office that can cause interference issues -- including neighboring Wi-Fi hotspots, building materials, electronics, and more.

Today's users also demand a lot better speed than wireless can provide. The network administrator has a hard enough time keeping user experience high with a strong, wired connection. If everyone was on wireless all the time, it would be nearly impossible to keep complaints at bay.

But the number one reason that most enterprises won't switch to all wireless is security. Wireless connections simply can't offer the security needed to protect the enterprise data warehouse, and most mission-critical applications need a wired connection to operate as speedily as users need. While it is possible to add some protective layers into the wireless connection, these systems are just easier to hack into than wired systems.

In the end, will convenience trump security, or will the enterprise continue to utilize wired connections into the 2020's? Most experts feel that the business world just isn't ready to accept the liabilities of today's wireless systems. Until huge strides are made in endowing wireless with the same security as wired connections can provide, the smart money is on the network administrator keeping their wired systems and simply allowing some convenient wireless connectivity here and there.

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