802.11ac Making Waves

Carl Weinschenk
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Making fun of marketing departments is as old as business itself. They take a small advance, or even no advance, and make it seem as if the folks for whom they work have discovered cold fusion.

But, sometimes, it is a good idea to listen to these folks. They can keep a company or an industry segment from leaving credit on the table. For instance, the latest emerging version of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, was split into Wave 1 and Wave 2. The reality is that there seem to be enough advances in Wave 2 to justify a new, distinct name. Words matter, and calling it a second wave has the tendency to downplay its potential significance.

The rollout of the 802.11ac family, which has been going on for a couple of years, reached a milestone this week with the extension of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program to include Wave 2 features.


CNET listed the features that are part of 802.11ac Wave 2 and will be part of the certification process. The most important and anticipated are Multi-User Multiple In Multiple Out (MU-MIMO) antennas. The idea, according to SlashGear’s Chris Davies, is that instead of the traditional approach of handling communications between the access point (AP) and the endpoint sequentially, MU-MIMO speeds operations by enabling communications to occur in parallel.

Other Wave 2 advances are the doubling of the maximum channel size to 160 MHz, the use of four spatial streams and 5GHz support. Many of the features are already available and now will have the advantage of being certified.

The move from Wave 1 to Wave 2, whether or not it is worthy of a name change, is not as great as the change from Wave 2 to the next iteration of Wi-Fi, 802.11ax. This means that enterprises face a conundrum common to scenarios in which technology is refreshed on a frequent basis: Is it wise to wait or jump in? Network World commented:

Where 802.11ac wave 2 is a strong incremental upgrade, 802.11ax (which is expected to hit in 2019) is a leap forward – it can, potentially at least, reach 10Gbps speeds, and has the ability to subdivide channels for better multi-device performance. Ajay Malik, a veteran of Cisco, Meru and HP, wrote earlier this year that many companies should simply wait for gear built to the 802.11ax standard to appear, instead of upgrading to wave 2 and then upgrading again to ax.

Some companies, of course, will ride the second wave. SlashGear reports that the industry is gearing up:

The first chipsets - from Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Quantenna - have already been approved, and should start showing up in routers in the coming months. Linksys has already announced one router with WiFi 802.11ac Wave 2 support, meanwhile, but you can check compatibility at the Wi-Fi Alliance's site.

Whether or not 802.11ac Wave 2 is correctly named is a side note, but it does point to the larger issue that the new version of Wi-Fi is a big deal and that 802.11ax is an even bigger deal – but still far in the future.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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