The Ratification of 802.11ac, And Its Use Cases

Last time, we looked at the 802.11n standard. In January 2014, the IEEE approved the 802.11ac standard. With this standard, several advances were realized, including more dense modulation (this just means packing more data onto the same radio wave), more channel bonding (think of this as taking two 2-lane highways and turning them into a single 4-lane highway), and the possibility for more antennas.

802.11ac was introduced in two parts, or waves. Wave 1 introduced 80MHz channels, up to 3 spatial streams, and 256 QAM. This leads to a max data rate of 1.3 Gbps. Wave 2 allows for further widening of the channels, introduces another spatial stream, and brings MU-MIMO into use. This equates to potentially 3.5 Gbps of bandwidth. That is a massive jump in bandwidth when you think of what we had even 3-4 years ago.

So what does this all mean? 802.11ac is the standard of choice for many organizations today who recognize that bandwidth will evaporate quickly with growing data demands and mobile clients. Wave 2 unlocks some incredible capabilities including MU-MIMO but some of the technology is still maturing in the enterprise space.

A key point with speed is that it’s shared, so the more devices on a single access point, the less bandwidth there is to go around, which is why it is important to ensure that you have a solution that can prioritize users, devices, applications, and locations in order to maximize capacity. In a later article, we will discuss the components required to do this.

It is also important to evaluate your wired infrastructure when new standards and capabilities are introduced. Access points are generally powered by the switch to which they are connected, using Power over Ethernet (PoE) or Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+). Many 802.11ac access points run best when they use full PoE+. It’s important, therefore, to consider your wired infrastructure when looking at wireless networking.

Next time, we will look at how to choose an access point.

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Alexandra Gates is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aerohive Networks, where she helps define market strategy and vision for the cloud and WLAN products. She is a CWNA with a comprehensive background in wireless technology, including capacity and management planning, RF design, network implementation, and general industry knowledge.

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