Since engineers are not marketers, dramatic differences in functionality sometimes are hidden by nondescript names. In other instances, subtle changes are trumpeted to seem like bigger deals than they are.
The release of the first 802.11ac Wave 2 access point (AP) by Ruckus Wireless is a case of downplaying a significant change. The difference between “Wave 1” and “Wave 2” seems to be more than the change in numbers suggests.
The key feature that Wave 2 devices add is multi-user multiple in, multiple out (MU-MIMO) antennas. MIMO itself is not new, but MU-MIMO ups the game by enabling simultaneous segmentation of the coverage area. In his story about the new AP, which is the ZoneFlex R710, Network World’s Jon Gold described the advance:
The R710 features the multi-user MIMO capability characteristic of Wave 2 devices, using what Ruckus calls Beamflex technology – built around antenna polarization – to focus signals directionally, making more efficient use of available bandwidth. The company says the R710 can handle 800Mbps of throughput via the older 2.4GHz frequencies, and 1733Mbps via 5GHz.
Put more simply, a person screaming one piece of information from a central point to everyone within a 360-degree arc is akin to Wave 1 techniques, as well as older Wi-Fi techniques. With Wave 2, that person can scream different things simultaneously to people standing in different quadrants of that arc.
This is a bigger deal than most people realize. A nice round-up of the differences between the first and second waves of 802.11ac is available from Hummingbird Networks. John Ciarlone points out that the channelization is expanded as well. He agrees, however, on the importance of MU-MIMO to increase performance and “boost user capacity.”
Lee Badman, a wireless network architect at an unidentified private university, presents the Wave 2 to his NetworkComputing audience as if a new era in Wi-Fi has arrived:
As the first-to-market Wave 2 AP, Ruckus’ R710 provides the industry’s starting volley in what will certainly become an arms race of speeds and features as competitors play catch up. Wave 2 promises Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO), and the R710 brings it. This is the first AP to be able to service up to three concurrent streams to different users in what was a one-user-at-a-time paradigm for client access in 11ac Wave 1 and the earlier 11n standard.
The race will include the usual feature and price competition. The number of sectors and the amount of data that can be directed at users in each also will play a big role in who dominates the 802.11ac Wave 2 game.
In my previous post, I blogged about the great days that Ethernet is enjoying. It seems that increases in bandwidth capabilities are floating all technologies’ boats. Dell’Oro Group, in a report released in mid-March, wrote that 802.11ac Wave 2 systems will enable data transfer at more than 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). That, in turn, will drive the need for faster Ethernet. The industry will respond, the firm believes, with commercial availability of 2.5 and 5Gbps systems.
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.