Abracon | Abracon Trends in Connectivity: Wired Versus Wireless

Abracon Trends in Connectivity: Wired Versus Wireless

With advancements in wireless technology increasing, the choice between wireless or wired connectivity can be confusing. Abracon explains the relationship between the two transmission methods and their trade-off considerations.

06.21.2019
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This article has recently been updated to reflect new information.

In recent years, two trends have become catalysts for wired and wireless technology developments: The Internet of Things (IoT) industry boom and the overall proliferation of societal interconnectivity.

For example, newer Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) wireless protocols, such as LoRa, provide cost-effective solutions for remote battery-operated devices to reliably transmit low data over wide geographic ranges. Other emerging RF technologies, like cellular 5G connectivity and next-generation WiFi 6 (802.11ax), promise higher-speed data transmission for systems needing to efficiently deliver large amounts of data.

As wireless technology improves, the demand for increased wired connectivity bandwidth presents the next challenge for wired local area network technology. Wired technology, which is also used for the network backbone, must scale at least proportionally to the wireless demand. Wireless and wired transmission methods are complementary within the data ecosystem. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending upon their application.

Wireless LAN Wired LAN
Power Battery, energy harvesting or power cable connection Power cable or Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Data Rate Approaching 10Gbps aggregate through-put with 802.11ax Up to 10Gbps per port/connection. Teaming multiple ports can achieve higher through-put. Next-generation protocols supporting advanced encoding are expected to achieve 40Gbps through-put.
Security Digital encryption Inherent security of hard-wired, twisted-pair copper cabling.
Range Dependent upon the wireless protocol standard Up to a kilometer range using fiber. Range for copper connectivity may be limited as higher data rates are achieved (i.e., 30m for 40G Base-T)
Cost of installation Minimal, no cabling to end client node required For applications using existing infrastructure, there may be no cost because all Base-T technology/cabling is backward compatible. Higher upfront costs may occur for new applications needing cabling installation

Cost, application requirements and physical constraints drive the decision for implementing wired, wireless or hybrid networks. Trade-off considerations include power availability, data bandwidth requirements, data security, and proximity/location of the network elements.

Power & Range

Wireless technology is ideal for low power and mobility. As a result, wireless is well-suited for rechargeable battery applications and situations in which the location and proximity of nodes on the network need to be mobile.  Perfect application examples include low-power energy harvesting and enterprise-level wireless laptop connectivity.

Wired networks typically require nodes with a power connection, hence necessitating static locations and network proximity. However, Power over Ethernet (PoE) enables the convergence between data and power over the same cable. PoE is a great solution for powering remote devices, like security cameras, on a wired network. The current PoE specification, IEEE802.3bt, supports up to 100W to the powered device (PD). Some companies in the industry are driving PoE further – up to 125-150W per port. However, those power levels are not ratified in the IEEE standard, so network administrators must be aware of the hardware compatibility of the PSE (power sourcing equipment) and powered device (PD).

Data & Scalability

When determining data rate capacity, wired solutions perform best and provide greater scalability. Wired networks are inherently easier to scale due to port aggregation. For example, a 4-port 10GBase-T network adapter can scale up to a single 40Gb port using aggregation.  On the other hand, wireless nodes share the same medium, so full bandwidth is not guaranteed. Thus, scalability is important when the network size and overall throughput requirements are expected to change.

As previously described, wired networks provide high data rate advantages. However, beamforming technology may allow wireless networks to become just as fast and efficient as wired networks. Beamforming is a technique used to focus the radiated energy to a single receiving network node. By focusing the energy, fewer wireless devices share the same channel, and throughput can approach the theoretical wired point-to-point data rate. There is, however, a drawback concerning the power consumed by the increased processing involved for beamforming.

Security

Fully secured connections are better implemented on a wired network because the network traffic is only accessible by the end points. Wireless network traffic is broadcasted freely and could be intercepted by cyber criminals. Although, recent advancements in wireless data encryption, like WEP, WPA and WPA2, provide robust security options.

Cost

The main factor driving the decision between choosing wireless or wired connectivity is the application, but cost is a close runner-up.  Wireless is the smart choice for implementing a new network that lacks an installed base of cabling or equipment. Physical and proximity constraints may limit access to lay cabling.  However, if a wired infrastructure already exists, then the wired implementation costs significantly reduce and benefits from scalability and backward interoperability are possible.

There is not a “right” answer that fits for every scenario. Wired and wireless applications lend themselves as the best solution for specific requirements. Both technologies will continue to co-exist, but the total available market will probably shift to toward wireless connectivity as the global society becomes more mobile and adopts 5G and WiFi 6 technology on a prevalent scale.

Visit the resource page to learn about Abracon's connectivity solutions. View the interactive antenna catalog for further information about Abracon's wireless solutions.


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