In my last article in this series on the new 802.11ac standard, I looked at 802.11ac adoption. In this final installment, I will examine how organizations are implementing 802.11ac, and provide advice on how to plan for 802.11ac Wave 2 deployment.
The ink is barely dry on the IEEE 802.11ac-2013 standard and the Wi-Fi Alliance is at least a year away from certifying Wave 2, but deploying Wave 1 products isn’t a huge risk. Enhancements required by Wi-Fi Certified ac tests didn’t substantively change between draft and final standards. Wave 2 products aren’t likely to implement those features differently, but they will use new chipsets to support MU-MIMO and perhaps more spatial streams.
Customers deploying new or replacement APs now usually choose 11ac, said Cisco solutions architect Pablo Estrada: “We see proactive upgrades in locations where there are capacity concerns, particularly where higher performance or higher density is needed.”
Aruba isn’t seeing many wholesale upgrades to 11ac. “Where 11n is still chosen, it’s either because they have already standardized on an 11n AP and want to continue using it everywhere, or to take advantage of low-end, lower-cost 11n APs," Fenstermacher said. “At the high end, there’s little difference in price, and it’s easy to mix and match 11n and 11ac.”
Meru Networks is advising customers to forgo any planned 11n expansions and go straight to 11ac because, at only $100 per AP, the cost difference is very low.
“This ensures that they will be ready for the coming influx of 11ac devices, which has already begun but will spike after the 2013 holiday season and certainly after CES 2014,” said Wilson Craig, director of public relations at Meru.
[Read why the arrival of certified 802.11ac products may be an opportunity to consider other vendors as you upgrade in "802.11ac: Time To Change Vendors?"]
However, the soaring number of devices in offices may have the greatest impact on Wave 2 deployment. In 2013 Forrester Research surveys, growing mobility support and network capacity are top strategic IT priorities during the next 12 months, predominately via in-house WLAN expansion. And it’s the explosive growth in mobile devices shaping these plans. The bring-your-own-device trend has shattered laptop-per-worker capacity planning; today, employees often bring three wireless devices to work, most of which no longer run Windows.
Moreover, the amount of traffic sent by each device is rising. In 2013, about one-quarter of all business traffic flowed across Wi-Fi, according to Forrester analyst Andre Kindness. By 2015, streaming video, mobile VoIP, and virtualization will drive that up to 44%. And by 2017, two-thirds of business traffic will be wireless, demanding enterprise WLANs that can deliver gigabit application throughputs to high-density users.
Keeping enterprise WLANs ahead of this curve will require planning, continually rolling out Wave 1 products through normal refreshes and upgrades, and then deploying Wave 2 APs in high-density areas.
To lay the groundwork for Wave 2, consider switch and controller capacity, Power over Ethernet budgets, and CAT-6 cabling. Companies may not need to replace that infrastructure to power Wave 1 APs, but they will need to take full advantage of Wave 2 APs. Rethink 5-GHz allocation in light of 11ac channel options, then let dynamic per-frame channel widths do the heavy lifting. Where possible, choosing Wave 1 clients that also support beamforming will make Wave 2 upgrades pay off faster.
Finally, keep a watchful eye on WLAN utilization, application demands, and client population. The first wave of 11ac can and should be used to meet enterprise WLAN needs for the next year or two, but understanding trends will be crucial to investing wisely in Wave 2 once MU-MIMO technology matures.