When I speak with IT managers across the industry, one message comes through loud and clear: Ubiquitous mobility is a top priority and will only grow in importance.

Why? Organizations boost the productivity of their people, forge closer relationships with customers and constituents, and roll out new applications and services — all through innovative mobile solutions. 

But life isn’t always easy in a wireless world. With so much demand for wireless resources, Wi-Fi bandwidth strains under the pressure, especially as performance-hungry apps, such as streaming video, continue to evolve.

This helps explain why so many conversations I have these days with tech chiefs quickly turns to 802.11ac, the new wireless standard that will help them meet current wireless demands and future-proof their organizations for an ever increasing mobile world.

802.11ac is the latest in a series of 802.11 standards that have defined Wi-Fi networks for more than 15 years. As with each preceding generation, “ac” delivers a significant speed boost.

The widely deployed previous generation, 802.11n, is rated to stream data at 450 megabits per second. The first 802.11ac iteration, dubbed Wave 1, nearly doubles that rate to 890Mbps. Wave 2, expected in the next two years, will push performance to 2.4 gigabits per second.

Support for Multiple Users

Wave 2 will also change the long-standing Wi-Fi reality that an access point can “talk” to only one mobile user at a time. Here’s an example: Today, a school may be surrounded by homes and businesses using the 2.4-gigahertz frequency on 802.11n APs. If both the school and a nearby home on a different network, for example, are using the same channel on the 2.4GHz band, a teacher must wait if the neighbor has already claimed it for a transmission.

That’s a particular problem if that neighbor’s device happens to support an older 802.11 protocol — perhaps one that tops out at 11Mbps — and the instructor is running a brand-new tablet capable of 450Mbps.

It’s like being on a one-lane road and getting stuck behind a vintage VW Beetle when you’re driving a superfast Porsche. Because you can’t go around the Bug, you must wait until it gets out of the way — not so with 802.11ac.

Wave 2 APs will accommodate multiple simultaneous users. The multiuser multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) innovation means that different individuals will be able to cleanly stream data, including high-definition video, at the same time and continue to push the limits of Wi-Fi technology.

A Bright, Speedy Future

Another plus: Unlike 802.11n, which supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, 802.11ac runs on the higher and less used frequency band only. It also gives network managers 23 channels to play with, unlike 802.11n’s three channels. Think of it as a wide-open freeway for the latest Porsche-like mobile devices.

For years we’ve seen a pattern where faster performance and more efficient networks have fueled new types of mobility. 802.11ac will power a similar leap forward, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store for us mobile diehards.

Here’s an 802.11ac Migration Checklist:

  • Perform a site survey to determine if the current number and locations of access points are right for 802.11ac and the limitations of 5GHz transmission to penetrate obstructions. 

The good news: CDW engineers are experts in conducting surveys and drafting network redesigns when necessary. 

  • Budget for new 802.11ac access points to replace current units. 

The good news: The new standard is backward compatible with all previous 802.11 protocols so migrations can happen gradually. 

  • While planning for Wave 1, consider the requirements for Wave 2 deployments in the future, which will better facilitate transition to Wave 2’s richer capabilities later. 

The good news: Some vendors offer access points that will move from Wave 1 to Wave 2 by simply plugging in a new module. 

21 thoughts on “802.11ac: Ready for another Wireless Shakeup? (Psst, This One Promises to Be a Winner)

    • That kind of speed is for internal networks. It helps in situations where you transfer data from local machine to local machine.

    • Jason Wojcik says:

      In South Austin, there is AT&T gigapowe and Google Fiber.

      But don’t feel bad, living in south Austin isn’t that great to get an ultra high spped internet speeds.

      While the vast majority of places have high cost/low speeds, it is the local network that you will appreciate the speed. If you had 4 devices on the network and you wanted to stream a locally available movie, it will be a pleasurable experience.

    • John,
      Perhaps you should reach out to your Account Manager and they can put you in touch with our broadband team to help find you an ISP that can handle those speeds.

    • Yup just live in DFW and get FIOS fiber straight to your house. I’m anIT professional and still can’t max out our wired bandwidth.

    • Well a few things. DSL will not necessarily be better or worse for you. Whatever max speed you can get from your ISP is what you can get. There may also be some wireless ISPs in your area that you may be able to get service from. May want to check yelp or poke around to see. The big benefit for you, if you aren’t say getting more than 100 Mbps from your ISP, would be on your internal LAN. Everything behind your firewall would be faster and more efficient from the inside of your network. This is especially true for business purposes.

  • Dumb Question:
    Technically, how do you say 802.11?

    eight hundred and two dot eleven
    eight O two dot one one
    eight O two Eleven…….. I go all permutation, but you get it..

  • Why you said “wide-open freeway for the latest Porsche-like mobile devices.”
    you should say “wide-open freeway for the latest Tesla-like mobile devices.”.

  • Ralph Buschman says:

    When we do finally get intelligent street lights that can move wifi data stream deployed life will get much easier . Taking out old lights , replacing them with led will.allow power to drive wifi enabled street lighting .A solution is available , just need everyone to agree to do it !!!!
    Soone .we start sooner life gets easier for us all .

    • FYI .. in cities like Chicago, the light poles rust out at the base and the DOT is not going to replace expensive or complicated fixtures.. The new poles could be made of a rust free material that will not snap in hot/cold/windy/protest prone areas…

  • The unanswered question is that with the new 11ac, will the range be further reduced? Wi-Fi in any form is subject to the “number of walls” between your tablet and the antenna. Higher raw speed means more error checking to make sure bits are not lost, and more processing power fro decrypt/encrypt. As far as streetlight access points, do you trust any city govt to bankroll deployment or keep something that complex maintained?

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