In my research I tend to talk a lot about the implications of 802.11n  for enterprise IT departments, however,  the potential impact of the technology for smaller businesses is even more profound.

Forrester defines an enterprise as an organization with over 1,000 employees, anything smaller, and we classify it as an SMB. Our most recent Enterprise And SMB Networks And Telecommunications Survey, North America And Europe, Q1 2008 shows that, while only 10% of enterprise respondents have rolled out 802.11n networks, 15% of SMBs have taken the same step. In companies under 100 employees, adoption jumps to 30%! My hypothesis is these organizations’ rapid adoption of the new standard is due to their reliance on Wi-Fi for primary network connectivity, a result of its easier and cheaper deployment across a group of users.

Enterprise vendors’ offerings for medium- and small-business controller-based products are a bit of overkill for businesses under 100 employees, and many don’t yet encompass the .11n chipsets found in large company offerings. Concurrently, consumer network infrastructure vendors, such as D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear are trying to go up-market. Who, then, should small SMBs be turning to for infrastructure that is
critical in keeping these users connected?

The recent announcement of Cisco’s Linksys brand’s WRT610N 802.11n consumer router begs the question, of whether Linksys and Cisco are working to close the gap between their product lines. The more prominent Cisco branding, support for dual band (2.4GHz, 5GHz) data streams or, in lieu of this, channel bonding for greater throughput, seem a bit of overkill for the average home user. That said, at the $200 price-point Linksys is offering the device, it is more expensive than 3Com’s Wireless 11n Cable/DSL/ADSL Firewall Routers which offer support for business features such as QoS, VLAN support, and point-to-point VPN connections with MSRPs of $109 and $149, respectively.

So, if you’re an SMB looking to either improve your current wireless strategy, or migrate to an "all-wireless" network model, it’s not as far-fetched an idea as you may think. And, while Linksys shows some signs of clear thinking around beefing up its products for the SMB market, the best bets are still the SMB-focused "enterprise" plays like 3Com. You’ll be surprised what these vendors are packing in a consumer-priced piece of hardware.

By Chris Silva

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