In Praise Of Running Lines

cables-0716It’s been a huge boon to AV that wireless solutions now exist that were little more than wishful thinking ten years ago.

Today I find myself looking at the specs of things like wireless HD video dongles and I think back to specific projects and site surveys in years past where I thought, “Man, this is going to hurt. I wish I had wireless for this!” Even so, as the number of wireless solutions has grown and their capabilities increased, their popularity has led to whole new issues.

As the saying goes, every solution has two problems.

As a consequence, there’s been a return to center, and while AV pros aren’t refusing to install wireless solutions, they still prefer running lines, with wireless as a distant second choice. The reason why is simple: saturated airwaves.

In urban areas, the density of Wi-Fi network devices competing for space is unreal. One project in particular that comes to mind was what was supposed to be an extremely simple setup of a pair of wireless music boxes in a downtown condominium. Literally dozens of other networks nearby made them less reliable that originally hoped for. It took three router upgrades to find one strong enough to cut through the chatter.

More than one AV pro has told me that they’ve sat down with clients and sold them out of the desire for wireless just by using the Wi-Fi finder utility on their laptop or smartphone to show them just how many rival networks are competing for bandwidth.

I’ve wryly observed a microcosm of the issue at every trade show I’ve been to. Vendor booths are often running their own Wi-Fi networks, competing with each other and the conference halls’ own networks.

It can be a mess.

I’ve likened the Wi-Fi arms race as the 21st century equivalent of the dorm floor stereo wars from our college days. Everyone’s neighbors are upgrading to bigger, faster, meaner, sometimes enterprise-grade routers for their homes in order to blast their network over the noise coming from every other house in their area.

When I’m with my kids in the middle of the playground in our neighborhood, easily 600 feet from the nearest house, my iPhone always picks up one network in particular, with full bars, every time.

I don’t know if “military grade” applies to Wi-Fi, but this guy has clearly declared war on his neighbors.

It’s that landscape that leads AV pros to focus on running lines. And that’s where the need to educate clients comes into play. Your clients think wireless will handle everything for them, but when it comes down to speed, reliability and latency, which is a big one for streaming video, not to mention security, wired remains a better option.

One AV pro once suggested to me that even in retrofit jobs, once you crunch the numbers on labor hours spent troubleshooting Wi-Fi dropouts before completion, and service calls after, it might have been cheaper and more profitable to have just pulled wire. That’s especially true if you need to specify enterprise-level Wi-Fi hardware — then there are little or no cost savings compared to running lines.

I would never be so audacious as to declare that Wi-Fi for AV will go the way of the dodo, just that like every other tool in the AV pros’ toolbox it has its place. All I’m saying is that where speed, bandwidth and security are critical, running lines still can’t be beat.