Last week I went to go talk to a group of vocational students about networking. While I was there, I needed to send a couple of emails. I prefer to write emails from my laptop, so I pulled it out of my bag between talks and did the first thing that came to mind: I asked for the wireless SSID and password. Afterwards, I started thinking about how far we’ve come with connectivity.
I can still remember working with a wireless card back in 2001 trying to get the drivers to play nice with Windows 2000. Now, wireless cards are the rule and wired ports are the exception. My primary laptop needs a dongle to have a wired port. My new Mac Mini is happily churning along halfway across the room connected to my network as a server over wireless. It would appear that the user edge quietly became wireless and no tears were shed for the wire.
It’s also funny that a lot of the big security features like 802.1x and port security became less and less of an issue once open ports started disappearing in common areas. 802.1x for wired connections is barely even talked about now. It’s more of an authentication mechanism for wireless now. I’ve even heard some vendors of these solutions touting the advantages of using it with wireless and then throwing in the afterthought comment, “We also made it easy to configured for wired connections too.”
We still need wires, of course. Access points have to connect to the infrastructure. Power still can be delivered via microwave. But the shift toward wireless has made ubiquitous cabling unnecessary. I used to propose a minimum of four cable drops per room to provide connectivity in a school. I would often argue for six in case a teacher wanted to later add an IP phone and a couple of student workstations. Now, almost everything is wireless. The single wire powers a desk phone and an antiquated desktop. Progressive schools are replacing the phones with soft clients and the desktops with teach laptops.
The wire is not in any danger of becoming extinct. But it is going to be relegated to the special purpose category. Wires will only live behind the scenes in data centers and IDF closets. They will be the thing that we throw in our bag for emergencies, like an extra console cable or a VGA adapter.
Wireless is the future. People don’t walk into a coffee shop and ask, “Hey, where’s the Ethernet cable?” Users don’t crowd around wall plates with hubs to split the one network drop into four or eight so they can plug their tablets in. Companies like Aruba Networks recognized this already when they started posing questions about all-wireless designs. We even made a video about it:
While I don’t know that the all-wireless design is going to work, I can say with certainty that the only wires that will be running across your desktop soon will be power cables and the occasional USB cord. Ethernet will be relegated to the same class as electrical wires connected to breaker boxes and water pipes. Important and unseen.