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The Latest Wi-Fi Standard Part 2: 7 Steps to Prepare for Migration


In our last post we the critical importance of the Wi-Fi network in today’s IT environment. Once considered a convenience, Wi-Fi is now viewed as a strategic business asset. In order to provide on-demand access to business data and applications from mobile devices and enable the use of bandwidth-heavy applications such as videoconferencing without performance glitches, organizations need a reliable, high-performance wireless LAN (WLAN).

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers introduced the 802.11ac wireless standard to meet the demands of high-density Wi-Fi environments. Built upon the foundation of the 802.11n standard, 802.11ac dramatically improves speed and capacity and supports more users per stream while reducing latency and interference.

802.11ac products are being introduced in two “waves.” Wave 1 products, which are available now, use the less-crowded 5GHz band and 20MHz, 40MHz and 80MHz channels. Although Wave 1 access points (APs) generally support three spatial streams, many tablets and smartphones are single-stream devices, resulting in a wide variety of data rates.

Wave 2 products support multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) technology that maximizes the number of megabits transmitted per megahertz of spectrum. MU-MIMO improves upon the capabilities of the 802.11n technology by supporting up to four simultaneous user transmissions on each spatial stream. 802.11ac also doubles the number of spatial streams from four to eight. This allows for much higher user density.

The challenge is that many wired networks use 1 Gigabit switches and Cat5e cabling to connect APs to the network. The wired network will be slower than 802.11ac Wave 2 devices, which promise speeds greater than a Gigabit. In addition, 802.11ac devices require 30W Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+), but many organizations have only 15W PoE capabilities.

Clearly there are a number of things to consider before deploying 802.11ac. Organizations seeking to migrate to this new technology should prepare by taking the following steps:

1) Assess your wired network. 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) uplinks are typically required and backhaul infrastructure may need to be upgraded in order to avoid performance degradation. You’ll also need to evaluate your (PoE) capabilities.

2) Assess your WLAN controller. The WLAN controller must be 802.11ac-aware and capable of supporting the additional capacity provided by 802.11ac.

3) Evaluate capacity requirements. Determine the number of wireless devices that must be supported, the number of devices that will be used at the same time, and what types of applications will be used. This will help you plan for both capacity and access point density.

4) Review RF requirements from a 5GHz perspective. Organizations should plan to use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but 802.11ac delivers maximum bandwidth and performance in the 5GHz band.

5) Consider a dense deployment strategy. Because 5GHz is a shorter wavelength, a denser deployment of access points is required. Also, a dense deployment strategy will shorten the distance between endpoints and help to sustain performance.

6) Determine a deployment plan for both coexistence and migration. Keep in mind that 802.11ac is compatible with 802.11n, so upgrading to 802.11ac shouldn’t require you to rip out existing equipment. A phased migration may be the ideal approach to take.

7) Consider operations and management capabilities. Because effective management is critical with Wi-Fi optimization, organizations should consider combining wired and wireless management and upgrading to an enterprise-grade management console.

ICG’s Network Infrastructure team has extensive experience in the design, implementation and support of high-performance network solutions. Let us help you develop a wireless networking strategy that meets your current and future business requirements.