Congratulations! We have managed to slay the beast that is wireless. We’ve driven a stake through it’s heart and prevented it from destroying civilization. We’ve taken a nascent technology with potential and turned it into the same faceless corporate technology as the Ethernet that it replaced. Alarmist? Not hardly. Let’s take a look at how 802.11 managed to come to an inglorious end.
Maturing Or Growing Up
Wireless used to be the wild frontier of networking. Sure, those access points bridged to the traditional network and produced packets and frames like all the other equipment. But wireless was unregulated. It didn’t conform to the plans of the networking team. People could go buy a wireless access point and put it under their desk to make that shiny new laptop with 802.11b work without needing to be plugged in.
Wireless used to be about getting connectivity. It used to be about squirreling away secret gear in the hopes of getting a leg up on the poor schmuck in the next cube that had to stay chained to his six feet of network connectivity under the desk. That was before the professionals came in. They changed wireless. They put a suit on it.
Now, wireless isn’t about making my life easier. It’s about advancing the business. It’s about planning and preparation and enabling applications. It’s about buying lots of impressively-specced access points every three years to light up new wings of the building. It’s about surveying for coverage and resource management to make sure the signal is strong everywhere. Everyone has to play nice and understand the rules.
Wireless professionals are the worst of the lot. They used to deal in black magic and secret knowledge that made them the most valuable people on the planet. They alone knew the secrets of how spectrum worked or what co-channel interference was. That was before the dark times. Before people wanted to learn more about it. Now, we can teach people these concepts. How to use tools to fix problems. Why things must be laid out in certain ways to maximize usefulness. We’ve made everyone special.
Now, the business doesn’t want wizards with strange work habits and even stranger results. They want the same predictable group that they’ve gotten for the last decade with the network team. They want people to blame when their application is slow. They want the infrastructure to work full time in every little corner of the building. And when it doesn’t, they want to know whose head must roll for this affront!
Another thing that destroyed wireless was everyone’s attempt to make it mainstream. Gartner’s Wired and Wireless reports didn’t help. Neither did the push to create tools that make it easy to diagnose issues with a minimum of effort. Now, companies think that wireless is something that just happens. Something that doesn’t take planning to execute. Now, wireless professionals are fired or marginalized because it shouldn’t take that much money to configure something so simple, right?
Why do wireless people need professional development? The networking team gets by with reading those old dusty books. How much can wireless really change year to year? It just gets faster and more expensive. Why should you have to learn how to put up those little access points all over again?
Now that wireless is a part of the infrastructure like switches and routers, it’s time to be forgotten. Now the business needs to focus on other technology that’s likely to be implemented incorrectly that doesn’t support the mission of the business. You know, the kinds of things that we read about in industry trade magazines that they use in sports stadiums or hospitals that sound really awesome and can’t be all that expensive, right?
We killed wireless because we used it to do the job it was designed to do. We made it boring and useful and pervasive. As soon as a technology achieves that level of use it naturally becomes something unimportant. Which you will be quick to argue about until you realize that you’re probably reading this from a smartphone that is so commonplace you forget you’re using it.
Now we talk about the apps and technology we’re building on top of wireless. Mobility, location, and other things that are more appealing to people shelling out money to buy things. Buyers don’t want boring. They want expensive gadgets they can point to and loudly proclaim that they spent a lot for this bauble.
Wireless is a victim of its own success. We fought to make it a part of the mainstream and now that it is no one cares about it any more. Now that we take it for granted we must accept that it’s not a “thing” any more. It just is.