• 11/26/2012
    11:56 AM
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802.11ac: 5 Steps to Prepare for Next-Gen WLANs

The 802.11ac wireless standard will be ratified in 2013, and pre-standard consumer hardware is on the market. Follow these five steps to prepare now for the day when 802.11ac comes knocking.

4. Re-evaluate Your WLAN Vendor

As 11ac looms, so do the pressures of BYOD's endless explosion and "unified" client access, wireless switch management, networks without borders and cloud-enabled everything. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are standing at the juncture of a number of decisions that will have to be made simultaneously.

Now is a time for reflection before the 802.11ac tide rises in earnest. Is your current WLAN getting it done for you? Are you happy with tech support, sales engineers, management platforms and the delivery of features versus the rate of bug fixes for controllers and ancillary management boxes? Do you see yourself buying into unified wired, wireless, NAC and other network services? If so, don't assume your WLAN incumbent will be your "11ac plus everything else" vendor. At the same time, change is difficult, so now is the time to contemplate whether an 11ac upgrade will also come with a new vendor.

5. Re-evaluate Your Ethernet Network

Once you get familiar with the promise of 11ac, you may wonder if keeping a robust, wired Ethernet environment alongside 11ac is worth the effort and cost. At an Aruba AirHeads conference I attended a few years back, I was struck by the mantra of "Wireless where you can, wired where you must" that pervaded the event. Nowhere does this philosophy have more relevance than where 802.11ac is concerned. With features like Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) and whiz-bang modulation schemes combined with extremely high data rates, 11ac has the potential to deliver wireless access in a way that more imitates a switch than a hub. Even with 11n, environments like my own are finding that there is little that can't be done over wireless, including full Active Directory workstation functions.

Drawing down the wired Ethernet environment is a polarizing topic, and doesn't make sense in all cases. But at the same time, 11ac changes the discussion. And it is an important discussion to have ahead of 11ac's arrival, especially if budget saved on wired networking helps fund an 11ac rollout.

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