One of the recent trends of wireless that most affects how we design networks is how many devices are connecting to the network. It used to be wireless was mostly used by guests. Organizations didn’t want guest users to plug into an Ethernet port on their network for various reasons. To accommodate those users, wireless was provided. Often, this wireless was segregated from the rest of the network.

One of the first things that changed the needs of wireless on the network was the desire for users to have notebooks instead of desktop computers. This allowed them to bring their computer to a meeting or even take it home so they could work out of the office. Rather than plug into the Ethernet in the office, it was just easier to connect wirelessly.

The next wave to affect the wireless network was when smartphones and then tablets were born. Originally they were toys for the executives of the organization. The executives wanted to play with their devices while they were at work so they connected to the wireless network. Others in the company ended up getting these new devices too and they wanted to use them. The devices were also added to the wireless network when those users brought them into the office.

From there, the different users figured they could do some of their work using these devices. This is what led to the bring-your-own-device or BYOD trend. Organizations decided to let these users bring their own devices in and connect to the network to do their job. Along with some security concerns to consider, this also meant the previous wireless network was now obsolete and unable to handle the load. It used to be assumed that one out of every 10 or 20 users were connecting wirelessly. Now, we see cases where there are 2-3 devices PER USER connecting to the wireless network.

The capacity needs of the wireless network are only going to get greater as there are more “things” connected wirelessly. Up to this point, all the devices have had a user running them. As we move forward, there will be more standalone devices that either previously connected via a cable or even devices that were never connected to a network before. All of these things can drown yesterday’s wireless network.

Some of the examples are mostly going to be used by people in their homes such as a garage door opener or a gaming console connected to the wireless network. Others can have some business purpose. There are wireless printers now. There are light bulbs and thermostats that connect wirelessly in order to remotely control energy costs. There are wireless TVs that will allow sending content where you don’t have (or don’t want to run) an Ethernet cable. It is very easy for makers of things to add wireless to a product if there is any reason.

Wireless networks used to be designed based on how much coverage area an access point will give. Now, we look at how many devices will connect to that access point. We want to get the communication from these devices on and off the wireless as fast as possible so another device can talk. This is one of the promises of 802.11ac. 802.11ac is 3X faster than 802.11n – which was 8X faster than 802.11g. With the number of devices looking to connect to the network, the airwaves need to be as available as possible.

Wireless is going to keep evolving. More devices will connect wirelessly. Those devices will need more speed. And they will need more intelligence on the wireless network.