Today’s WLAN Vocabulary Word: Dichotomy

I just got back from the excellent 2018 Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (WLPC), and feel compelled to share one of the most impactful notions that I left the event with. Though what was said on the stage and in the training sessions has voluminous merit, there was something else afoot that is worth mentioning as well. Something of concern, curiosity, and headaches.

As with the greater WLAN industry, DICHOTOMY was a powerful elephant in the rooms at WLPC.


Merriam-Webster defines dichotomy as “something with seemingly contradictory qualities”, and I can’t think of a better word for the state of wireless networking today. Except it’s not a single dichotomy unto itself, but more of an industry/technology/mindset fraught with DICHOTOMY.

To be clear, “fraught” in this case means we are oozing dichotomy out of every orifice we collectively have that is capable of oozing. And when I say we are “oozing dichotomy”, I actually mean that we as a wireless industry can’t get our collective acts together on sooooo many fronts. We do counterproductive things… I blame everyone involved, from the IEEE to the Wi-Fi Alliance to Cisco and Aruba to every marketer in the mix and many individuals. But “blame” is too strong, maybe. Somehow, we all just kinda lost our way.

If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking “all right, get to the point already… show us examples of this dichotomy stuff so we can all get on with it.” OK- let’s do that. Following is a bulletized list of seemingly contradictory qualities. I’m also throwing in some bummers and head-scratchers for good measure.

  • Access Points are shipping with 80 MHz channels enabled in 5 GHz, while many a WLAN expert is saying that 20 MHz is plenty for most environments
  • The quest for WLAN design and survey hyper-precision marches on with awesome refinements to suites like Ekahau and iBwave, yet many people doing WLAN can’t afford these Caddilac-grade tools, so they do what they can with the “lesser” tools they have available- and frequently do just fine
  • For those of us who do put a lot of time into our designs and surveys (to both provide needed services and to generate revenue) we tend to factor out that wireless is also fairly forgiving to imperfect conditions and that Very Good may be the better fit than highly-tuned Perfection over time
  • Network manufacturers are pushing mGig switching for 802.llac Wave 2 APs while a huge percentage of the WLAN pro population leads with “It’s overkill and we’ll never need mGig” when asked about it – why the disconnect?
  • As the higher end of the standards are aggressively marketed by WLAN vendors, the very factors that need to line up to achieve the max performance is being undermined by client device makers who never got the memo that the 90s are over and yesterday’s shitshow doesn’t play well in today’s WLAN opera house
  • Security is the running headline du jour day in and out, yet client device makers are missing the boat here as well, so for decades we’ll be stuck with PSK networks and having to provide layers of network defenses for devices that are too hastily thrown together to be able to defend themselves for decades
  • Standards are evidently only standards to a point. When you need to design separate networks  for Apple devices, something is wrong with the bigger wireless world
  • We’re collapsing WLAN controllers into ever larger-capacity units to reduce uplink port counts, rackspace, etc- but the old saying about all the eggs in one basket applies here when too-frequent code issues impact thousands of APs and the clients using them
  • Our wireless boats at the enterprise level are drifting into the Automation Sea, where new magic promises to take the human touch of configuration and tuning out of the equation. Yet to get to the new “see- isn’t that simple?” paradigm, crazy complexity and cost have to be gotten past
  • While market leaders develop super-complicated WLAN systems that prioritize feature bloat over stability (evidently having both is not an option), “lesser” vendors are doing the REAL innovation as they prioritize serving ever larger numbers of clients without the system imploding under it’s own weight every few months

The list certainly goes on, but I’m sure you get the point. Before we close this out, give a little thought to Ethernet… Ever seen this weapons-grade lunacy on the wired network? I’m sure at least a couple of you are thinking that I’m not appreciating that WLAN is “flexible” which forgives everything that the WLAN Crazy Train might be hauling. To you I say: It ain’t innovation if it sucks.

So… what do we do as WLAN professionals, with all this DICHOTOMY afoot? I’d recommend recognizing it all for what it is. Skepticism is healthy, and enterprise WLAN work (and spending of enterprise WLAN dollars) deserves large doses of said skepticism. Part of our jobs as WLAN professionals (in my opinion) is to boil off hype, find warts, and make the best out of situations that are rarely as good as vendors would have you believe- as opposed to being Kool Aid drinkers and vendor fanboys. Dichotomy isn’t going  anywhere, so get used to it.

It’s also one of the parts of being in the WLAN field that I actually enjoy contending with, which in itself might be considered a dichotomy.

2 thoughts on “Today’s WLAN Vocabulary Word: Dichotomy

  1. Aaron Smith (@WiFiGeekSmith)

    Deals are won and lost based on:
    * price
    * features
    * stability
    * security
    * ease of use

    WLAN vendors are in a constant battle, competing on these and other factors. If you ignore any of them, you lose deals. It’s really tough to keep up with the pace of new standards, security, vulnerabilities, bug fixes, and competitor features while keeping prices low and systems stable.

    If the whole industry would stabilize a little rather than require drastic changes for new protocols every couple of years, vendors could catch up and maybe even keep up for a bit. It’s a lot of work to implement support for a new radio chip, believe it or not. It’s also a lot of work to make a scalable management platform that supports every new nerd knob and never goes down.

    Wi-Fi is never a dull industry to be involved in. My career has allowed me to do everything from APOS surveys to twiddling bits in Wi-Fi drivers. I love it all. It’s challenging at every level and it requires a coordinated effort to create a system and make it work.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Aaron, excellent perspective. Thanks for sharing it, and I do agree that it’s never boring. Part of what we do as WiFi pros as well is to serve as Confusion Filters- distilling all of the challenges you mention into something customers can understand and accept as things ebb and flow. That in itself is an art form.


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