Has Networking Lost Its Mojo?

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Tim Higgins

Maybe I have been covering this beat for too long and seen too many highly-hyped products come up short when carefully tested. Or maybe it’s the promise-big-and-deliver-small approach taken by too many companies. Or maybe it’s the meltdown of world economy and the long slog ahead that will take use years to recover what has been lost in days.

Right now, there are only two interesting areas in SOHO networking: wireless and network storage (NAS). Wireless continues to have legs, despite its fragile nature, because it promises (or at least its marketeers do) fast, trouble-free network connection anywhere in your home without the nasty hassle of stinky old Ethernet cables.

The main pitch continues to be for gaming and video streaming, which are probably the two applications least suited to a wireless network connection. Draft 802.11n is the latest piece of networking spaghetti that marketeers have to throw at the wall, but in too many cases, it ain’t sticking.

Yes, draft 11n (I’ll continue to call it that until it is released, which has been pushed out to November 2009) can provide significantly higher throughput than 802.11g. But that high throughput fades relatively quickly with distance. And using the channel-bonded mode in an attempt to achieve maximum throughput will interfere with neighboring networks and also reduce your range.

If you spring for a more-expensive dual-band product to try your luck in the 5 GHz band, you’ll find your range significantly shorter than in 2.4 GHz and the same rapid falloff in speed vs. distance.

The NAS market is also hot, since most of us are too busy or lazy to periodically clean out our digital closets. Or are determined, Hollywood, et al. be damned, to rip or download every DVD we can get our hands on.

But most of the new stuff that I see doesn’t push the envelope in either price / performance or innovative features. And after all, these things are just tanks that sit somewhere in the plumbing of our network, ready to receive whatever we choose to flush into them. Not exactly the stuff that quickens your pulse.

So what will come to rescue us from these digital doldrums? Frankly, I don’t know because it sure looks like more of the same ol’ same ol’ as far as I can see. But maybe your vision is better than mine. If it is, please share it! We could all use something to get excited about.

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