What to Consider Before Making the Move to 802.11ac

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    The key question an enterprise must answer when a new technology becomes available is a very basic one: Is it necessary? In the case of 802.11ac, the question within that question, according to Craig Mathias, is whether the organization really needs the 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps) throughput that it promises. This becomes an even more important issue in cases in which the move to 802.11ac requires the replacement of 802.11n and earlier access points (APs) that are not fully depreciated.

    Mathias writes that there is a lot of life left in 802.11n APs, but there a couple of reasons to keep an eye on 802.11ac nonetheless. It is important for planners to keep in mind that the real throughput of 802.11ac is about half of the advertised 1.3Gbps speed. For the same reasons, however, all 802.11 variants only offer about half the speed that the marketers promise. Thus, appropriate apples-to-apples comparisons should be made. The second thing to plan against is the inexorable increase in per-user data requirements.           

    Mathias goes through the pros and cons of updating. His conclusion:

    There’s really no rush to upgrade to .11ac if .11n continues to meet local user demands and traffic mix. But over time, most organizations will need to upgrade—especially those with a lot of mobile users. Development for .11n is over, and .11ac represents the technology path going forward, at least until the next 802.11 standard is ready.

    FedTech offers a three-step checklist of steps toward migration:

    • Organizations should conduct a site survey aimed specifically at 802.11ac. Previous surveys aimed at earlier 802.11 variants are not optimal due to the different characteristics of the 5GHz spectrum.
    • It is important to budget carefully. 802.11ac equipment itself doesn’t carry a cost premium over 802.11n, but there are startup costs. And, since the newer equipment is backward compatible, rollouts can be gradual. That is an advantage—but one for which plans still must be made.
    • Organizations should also plan for 802.11ac Wave 2.


    The Wave 2 issue is important. The overall 802.11ac market, according to Network World’s Mikael Ricknäs, has cooled due to global financial concerns and anticipation of this second wave. The improvements with Wave 2 are significant and include “faster speeds and support for a technology called MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple input multiple output).”

    The wireless local-area network (WLAN) segment is at a key point, and though 802.11ac is a promising new technology, enterprises must tread carefully.

    It is possible that some organizations simply don’t need 802.11ac, at least in the short term. On the other extreme, companies with extreme needs may be better off moving directly to the second wave. The decision as to which version to adopt—or whether to move toward 802.11ac right now—will be a very important one for most organizations.

    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 and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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