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Someone Has Moved My Network Bottleneck

By Jim Lucking on 11th Aug 2017

Can't find your network bottleneck?

If you have been working in networking for as long as me (it’s a long time, don’t ask), you will have seen the glacial pace at which wired networking throughput has increased over the years…it has been seriously slooooow.

First; some context

In the early days of ‘Thin’ and ‘Thick’ Ethernet - way back in the 1980s - we had 10Mbps Ethernet in a ‘bus’ system, and then in the early 90s, with the mass rollout of structured cabling, we moved to 10Mbps Ethernet in a hub/spoke design.

Then, in 1995, with the introduction of Fast Ethernet, we made the MASSIVE leap to 100Mbps throughput. With this development, wired networks were able to match the performance requirements of the time! Although, in the mid-90s, Internet usage was a fraction of what it is now, or even what is was just five years later:

  • Today = 2 BILLION users
  • Year 2000 = 361 Million
  • Year 1995  = <40 Million

Gigabit Arrival!

But then…Gigabit really altered the landscape, bringing 1Gbps throughput in 1999...

*Big pause*

And that is generally where most of us still find ourselves now. A not insignificant 18 years on and we’re still connecting at Gigabit speeds on our wired networks

In relation to other technological advancements since the Millennium, that could be considered a ‘poor show’:

  • Apple iPhones (and Smartphones in general) – they’ve made a pretty big impact, right? And, what’s more, they’ve continued to evolve…at least until recent iterations.
  • Biotechnology – artificial liver, anyone?
  • Driverless cars – a pretty giant leap I think you’ll agree?

So why has network throughput innovation been so lethargic?

A creeping evolution?

It’s unfair to suggest that throughput innovation has been completely non-existent over the past two decades – there were advancements in the 10Gbps and 40Gbps range, but these are generally used for Network Backbone and Data Centre connectivity. 

The associated costs and technical limitations mean that they aren’t realistic for general ‘end device’ network connectivity.

Breaking the magic ‘1Gbps’ threshold

Wireless LAN throughput lagged behind this upgrade in wired networking for some time, until the advent of the 802.11ac WiFi standard, which, at its initial 2013 release, promised throughputs of up to 1.3Gbps! 

However, this breakthrough in possible speeds didn’t come without a caveat of sorts – subsequent wireless access point deployments would be subject to potential bottleneck issues.

The network bottleneck dilemma

As I mentioned above, the progress of ‘wired’ infrastructures, with regards to speed, has been relatively slow, but for a long time they were still facilitating faster throughputs than wireless technology. However, as the years past and WiFi standards became increasingly faster, the ceiling reached by wired speeds was surpassed…and then some with .11ac. 

Of course, what follows, is that the Ethernet port which connects the wireless access points back to the network could indeed struggle to deliver the same throughput...hence, moving the bottleneck

Just imagine the scenario: you and your business have heavily invested in a wireless network and have promised your users the kinds of speeds that they having been dreaming of…only to find that the existing wired network can’t cope. 

Nightmare!

Although, all is not lost - where there is a problem, a solution is never far away…read on!

Business-grade network manufacturers started to offer a dual Gigabit wired Ethernet port on their Access Points in order to provide a solution to this issue, allowing the two Gigabit ports to be 'bundled' together. 

This effectively created a larger connection between the Access Point and the network, which, although does not provide true 2 x 1Gbps (2Gbps) throughput, does increase performance above 1Gbps.

Wave 2 .11ac

With the latest iteration of the 802.11ac, known as Wave 2, we are now seeing Access Points capable of throughputs of up to 1.7Gbps on the WiFi, thus increasing the potential network bottleneck issue.

However, Cisco, Aruba HPE and other networking vendors have created a new Ethernet standard that will sit between the current 1Gbps and the 10Gbps standards, providing throughput of 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps.

But why would you use this when 10Gigabit is available?

Well, rather ingeniously, they have succeeded in enabling Gigabit networks to work on existing cabling (Cat 5e and Cat6) infrastructures over the kind of distances that we already understand within the industry to be the maximum for good performance (100 metres). 

Put simply, this development facilitates vastly improved network performance whilst removing the burden of replacing your existing cabling infrastructure. 

In contrast, 10Gbps Ethernet is generally used across fibre optic infrastructures for network backbones, or with Cat 6a cabling, which is not a commonly installed cable system due to its difficult installation requirements.

Understand your potential bottlenecks

As is often the case with tech-challenges, the biggest issue that we face is communication. Ensuring that everyone knows about this new standard and the potential for network bottlenecks is simply the best way to avoid them – you’re welcome (please help the cause by sharing this blog!).

For help understanding the new challenges (and benefits) of increased WiFi throughput and ensuring you have the correct wired infrastructure in place to support it, please speak to us

What Next?

For advice on designing or upgrading your WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.

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