Lately I've heard a lot of negative thoughts regarding reference boards/designs as they relate to wireless infrastructure. Essentially, the thought process is: if a vendor uses a stock reference board in their equipment (ie. access point) then they are no better than a home wireless router. I humbly disagree.
I feel the same way about reference boards in wireless access points. Hardware isn't the only component of a wireless access point. There are drivers, hardware abstraction layers, and software/firmware that also play a major part. It is quite possible to give two vendors the same reference boards and have them create two completely different wireless solutions. One could be very high quality, and one could be a flaming pile of rubbish.
To me, the this is no different than the example I've given before about giving two people the exact same piano. One person might play beautiful music while the other can only play Three Blind Mice. The difference is the skill and level of innovation demonstrated in using the available hardware; whether we are talking access points or pianos.
The Flip Side
I am not completely blind to the other side of the coin. Yes, there is definitely something to be said for innovation at the hardware layer. Vendors who manage to innovate at the hardware layer can give themselves a real advantage in the market. However, in my opinion, relying solely on the strength of hardware innovation without having matching firmware/software innovation can be just as dangerous as using stock reference boards.
I'm not saying that everyone should use reference boards; indeed, I'm a huge fan of innovation in general. Instead, I'm just saying that the use of a reference board doesn't necessarily mean that the product isn't good. Just like in stock car racing, the hardware is only one piece of the puzzle.
What are your thoughts on the subject? I'm really interested to hear what you think about the role of hardware/software innovation in wireless networking. To join the conversation, leave a comment or share this post with others.