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Full speed ahead for 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi

Bob Brown | Dec. 5, 2014
Aruba Networks, which rolled out 802.11ac access points in May of 2013 to deliver more than 1Gbps throughput, is now shipping more 11ac than 11n gear.

The real holdup for Wave 2, though, says Gilby, is that it will require a chipset change

in client devices such as laptops and tablets. "You really need the bulk of the clients to get upgraded before you see the benefits," he says. (A recently released survey commissioned by network and application monitoring and analysis company WildPackets echoed Gilby's sentiments and found that 41% of those surveyed said that less than 10% of their organization's client devices supported 11ac.) 

Christian Gilby, director of enterprise product marketing, Aruba Networks

Gilby adds that while Wave 2 products will support double the wireless channel width, the government will first need to free up more frequencies to exploit this. Customers will also need to make Ethernet switch upgrades on the back-end to handle the higher speeds on the wireless side, and new 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps standards are in the works.

Nevertheless it sounds as though enterprise Wave 2 802.11ac products will start spilling forth next year, with high-density applications expected to be the initial use for them. "There's been some stuff on the consumer side... I think we'll see some enterprise products on the AP side in 2015...in fact, I'm pretty sure we will," said Gilby.

Ruckus Wireless vows to become one of the first vendors to market with a Wave 2 product in 2015 and has already had success with it in the labs using Qualcomm chips, says VP of Corporate Marketing David Callisch. Though he says vendors will really need to work hard on their antenna structures to make Wave 2 work well. "As the WiFi standards become more complex, having more sophisticated RF control is beneficial, especially when you're talking about having so many streams and wider channels." He says that "11ac is where it's at... Customers need the density. WiFi isn't about the coverage anymore, it's about capacity."

Like Gilby, Callisch says the big hold-up with 11ac Wave 2 advancing is on the client side, where vendors are always looking to squeeze costs. Wave 2 is backwards compatible with existing clients, but still...

"It's expensive to put ac' into clients," he says. "If you adopted Wave 2 products today you really couldn't get what you need to take full advantage of it. But that will change and pretty quickly."

As for how customers are using 11ac now, Gilby says where they have already installed 11n products on the 5GHz band, they are starting to do AP-for-AP swap-outs. It can be trickier for those looking to move from 2.4GHz 11n set-ups.

802.11ac is also catching on among small and midsize organizations, which companies such as Aruba (with its 200 series APs) have started to target more aggressively. Many of these outfits opt for controller-less networks, with the option of upgrading to controllers down the road if their businesses grow.

 

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