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Nortel: don't do 802.11n yet

It's not a standard till 2009.

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Nortel's not had a great time of it, in the last few years. After years of growth, the company made a colossal $27 billion loss in 2001, slashed its workforce and came back to profitability in 2004, only to suffer an accounting scandal, law suits, and a steady round of savage job cuts and sacked senior executives.

None of that seems to bother Phil Edholm, chief technology officer for enterprise networks there. He says the company is coming back up, and set for a good time, as wireless networking and telecoms-related technology takes over the enterprise. But he's not in any hurry – even though wireless is a major part of his campaign, he's happy to give other vendors 18 months head start with 802.11n fast wireless LANs.

The long view

You would expect Edholm to take a long view. He admits to a long history in the industry, being an author of the Ethernet 10baseT standard, and a founder of the Frame Relay. And he's given his name to a communications equivalent to Moore's Law.

Edholm's Law, which he says is really an "observation," predicts the rate at which wired and wireless connections will increase, in proportion to each other. There's always been a roughly 1:10:100 ration between "wide-area" wireless (at the moment, that's 3G), nomadic wireless (Wi-Fi) and wired connectivity (Ethernet) he says.

But although the speeds increase, application requirements don't change fundamentally, because they rely on the speed we can type or process visual information, he says: "12 to 25Mbit/s is enough to produce an image that is virtually artefact free, at the pixel resolution of the eye."

So if wireless speeds go up, he says "the applications will move from fixed, to nomadic, to wireless."

"What's really interesting over the next couple of years is that the consumer world will be driven by video, and video on demand will saturate the consumer network," he says. "In the enterprise world, the promise is in extending what nomadic networks do. There is already little quality difference between working in the office and working at home - with 4G we can extend that experience to anywhere."

"Businesses will no longer be constrained to the office. With 4G, you can have the same experience, sitting at the client location - and this the potential to fundamentally change the working environment."

He's talking about a more "organisable" and flexible environment, and Nortel's decreasing employees can no doubt attest to the this – the company operates hot desking or “hotelling” in its office, so staff have no assigned location, and furniture can be reorganised as the organisation changes its structure.


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