Are Your Offices Ready for 802.11ac?

The introduction of 802.11ac Wi-Fi has been one small step for the IEEE specification and one giant leap for wireless networking performance. Only a small share of all IP-enabled devices, from phones to PCs, currently have 802.11ac-compatible chipsets, but they enjoy clear advantages in speed, range and channel width over their peers stuck on the older 802.11n standard. The difference has been stark enough to raise the prospect of super fast Wi-Fi actually replacing wired Ethernet in some contexts.

There is an expectations game to play with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, though. Ideally, its high-speed power supports vital, bandwidth-intensive applications like VoIP and video conferencing across the enterprise WAN, while also enhancing mobility initiatives such as bring-your-own-device policies. But in reality, evolving the WAN is not as simple as greenlighting a few new 802.11ac routers and endpoints.

"Should my company upgrade to 802.11ac?" is becoming an easier question to answer.“Should my company upgrade to 802.11ac?” is becoming an easier question to answer.

Why is 802.11ac Wi-Fi special?
Based on theoretical peaks, 802.11ac is up to three times faster than the much more widely used 802.11n (introduced back in 2007). At the same time, it can deliver these blazing speeds to devices even at great distance, with less signal degradation than its predecessor. It accomplishes these feats through several key technical features:

  • It broadcasts exclusively in the 5 GHz band, which is quieter (i.e., has less interference) than the 2.4 GHz band and has wider channels, which 802.11ac uses efficiently through its quadrature amplitude modulation of 256 signals (was only 64 signals in 802.11n).
  • It uses eight spatial streams with channels up to 80 MHz wide, or 160 MHz after combining two of them, giving it plenty of spectral bandwidth to utilize.
  • It has standardized beamforming technology, which identifies 802.11ac devices and intensifies the signals heading toward them, rather than the traditional Wi-Fi mechanism of broadcasting indiscriminately in all directions.

Consumers can easily make the move to 802.11ac by purchasing a compatible router and 802.11ac-enabled device. Enterprises naturally have more considerations to weigh in overhauling their network infrastructure, but the time may now be right to adopt 802.11ac. It gives them future-proof networking and a strong foundation for cloud-based and real-time applications. One school district in Minnesota made the switch to get these exact advantages.

“802.11ac gives organizations future-proof networking and a foundation for cloud-based and real-time applications.”

“We could have kept with 802.11n, and that would have been fine, but we want this infrastructure to last five to eight years,” explained the district’s director of technology. “We have to think about how much more data students will be pushing through there, and this certainly seemed like [the] way to go.”

802.11ac Wi-Fi and the SD-WAN
With the rise of HD voice and video streaming services for everyday business communications, upgrading to the faster, wider range and more precise 802.11ac standard is a more sensible move than ever before. This shift to next-generation Wi-Fi should also be accompanied by a smart approach to the company WAN.

SD-WAN is tailor-made for handling today’s most important applications. It constantly looks for the best path and monitors metrics such as jitter and packet loss. By determining an optimal route for traffic, it complements the low-latency, high-speed performance of 802.11ac to create an ideal networking environment.

Categories: IT Challenges, Network Reliability, Business Agility, Hybrid WAN