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.