Why It Makes Sense for SMBs to Deploy 802.11n Wi-Fi

Paul Mah

You may have heard about the upcoming 802.11ac standard, which promises faster wireless networking. And with news of chipsets and wireless routers being released with support for 802.11ac, it may be tempting for SMBs to think of jumping straight to the latest and fastest Wi-Fi standard.

However, SMBs may be better off deploying 802.11n Wi-Fi for now. I’ve listed three of these reasons below.

It’s not ready yet

While it’s possible to purchase consumer-grade routers with 802.11ac, it is important to remember that final approval is expected to arrive only in 2013 or early 2014. Indeed, the crucial testing and certification program required to properly validate 802.11ac products is expected to launch only in early 2013.

For now, the earliest enterprise vendor to announce support is Cisco, which has said it will have an 802.11ac radio module for the company’s access point (AP) ready in 2013. Beyond Cisco’s indication of commitment to 802.11ac next year, there is effectively no business-grade Wi-Fi AP on the market at the moment. For why I advocate business-grade APs over consumer ones, check out my post on common Wi-Fi misconceptions.

802.11ac clients will take time to arrive

Wi-Fi data transfer speed is only as fast as supporting client devices. With no laptops or tablets on the market that support 802.11ac at the moment, the only way to properly utilize an 802.11ac would be to use a separate USB 3.0 Wi-Fi dongle — which defeats the convenience of wireless. Moreover, the dongle must be plugged into a USB 3.0 port to attain the maximum throughput, which leaves all but new laptops out of the equation.

And if you’re thinking that 802.11ac adoption is likely to be quick, my experience with testing a three-stream 802.11n AP recently (450Mbps) showed me that few laptops even implement three-stream 802.11n today. Indeed, almost all tablets and smartphones implement only single-stream 802.11n (150Mbps).

First-gen chipsets lacking in some features

Finally, current 802.11ac chipsets don’t implement multi-user MIMO, according to a Network World article titled “11ac will be faster, but how much faster really?” This means that they will only talk to one client at a time, instead of up to four simultaneously as defined in the 802.11ac standard. Moreover, the article also pointed to how first-generation 802.11ac chipsets are limited to an 80Mhz channel instead of the 160MHz allowed for in the standard.

My point here is simple: It doesn’t make much sense to set up a business network using consumer-grade 802.11ac APs, especially given the lack of built-in 802.11ac support in client devices. For the reasons outlined above, SMBs looking to deploy Wi-Fi networking may find that it makes far more sense to deploy an 802.11n instead.



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