The second wave of 802.11ac Wi-Fi is nearing, and it’s a big deal, according to Network World. Frank Kobuszewski, the vice president of the technology solutions group at CXtec, points to an increase from 1.3 Gigabits per second (Gbps) to 7.8 Gbps—a tremendous jump.
Companies are advised to carefully map out their needs before opting for 802.11ac Wave 2. For one thing, so much capacity may simply be unnecessary. Beyond that, the radical increase in bandwidth may make the wired elements of the network into the limiting factor.
The crossover point between wired and wireless networks has been reached, which is a milestone. It’s also a potential headache. The term “wireless network” is a bit of a misnomer—only the last bit of the path, the access point (AP) to the end user, is wireless. The path from the AP back to the point at which the signals enter and exit the building, however, is very much wired.
Experts say that in many cases significant changes will be necessary in the enterprise. Writes Kobuszewski:
Moving from 1 gigabit to several-times larger presents issues when you consider that the typical AP likely has a single 1-gig connection. What are the future implications? How many drops would be needed to run to an AP? Could it even take more than one connection?
These changes may touch every major element of the local-area network (LAN). Frank DeMassi, Resolute Partners’ vice president of technology, offered further details on Wave 2:
The current configuration available is 1Gb switch ports to the AP’s, in Wave 2 this will be inadequate to support the massive potential throughput of the AP on the wireless side. It’s not as easy as just upgrading the switches to support a higher speed – the connection to the AP is currently done with Cat5e cable, to support more bandwidth you will have to switch to Cat6 cable and even then might only get 2-3 gigabit connection to the AP at that distance. So not only will the switch capabilities have to be upgraded, but so will the Cat5e cable configuration.
Network planners must look even more carefully and holistically at 802.11ac Wave 2 upgrades than at other capital investments. The simple reason is that the real benefits of the new technology may be limited by the shortcomings of other elements of the network.
There may be workarounds, however, that provide enterprises with enough flexibility to exploit 802.11ac Wave 2 without immediate and huge investments in the wired portion of the local area network (LAN). For instance, the NBASE-T Alliance, which this month added 12 companies, aims to facilitate 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet (2.5GE and 5GE) over twisted pair copper. In other words, development of this approach will enable 802.11ac Wave 2 to run at about three-quarters speed on many of today’s LANs.
A tremendous amount of traffic is exploding across corporate LANs. Wireless is a key piece of the puzzle that is gaining more importance as time goes by. Organizations must keep in mind that the steps between 802.11ac Wave 1 and Wave 2 or between early versions of 802.11 and 802.11ac Wave 2 are big ones that must be undertaken with great care.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.