802.11ac Wave 2 and You, Sponsored by Extreme Networks

The latest and greatest Wi-Fi standard is here (sort of).  802.11ac Wave 2 is now available in real-world Wi-Fi devices (maybe) and it's ready to supercharge your Wi-Fi performance (under some circumstances).  

Since 802.11ac Wave 2 is brand new (based on a three year-old standard), a lot of folks are looking for clear information on it.  The technology is great (or, maybe over-hyped), but how can an organization tell whether it's time to upgrade?

Luckily, Sniff Wi-Fi (in a post sponsored by Extreme Networks) has just the solution for you: an eBook!  "The 5 Essential Elements in the 802.11ac Wave 2 Business Case" covers 802.11ac Wave 2 technology, compares it to previous Wi-Fi technologies and identifies specific ways that 802.11ac Wave 2 can improve Wi-Fi performance for a number of vertical markets (no, really, it does).

When it comes to Wi-Fi deployment upgrades, I find that organizations fall into one of three groups: 

1) Organizations that keep their Wi-Fi infrastructure until the bitter end.

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if you're still runnin' 802.11g, you might be an organization that keeps its Wi-Fi infrastructure until the bitter end.  This blog, and Extreme's eBook, may be for you some day, but not until your 802.11g APs stop working.

2) Organizations that always want the newest technology.

Group number two probably also has little use for this blog or for Extreme's eBook.  You're going to upgrade to 802.11ac Wave 2 at your earliest opportunity, if you haven't already.

3) Organizations that fall somewhere in the middle.  

This blog, and the eBook that is causing Extreme Networks to sponsor it, is for you, the members of group number three.

Extreme Networks' eBook, "The 5 Essential Elements in the 802.11ac Wave 2 Business Case" has answers to a lot of the questions you may have about 802.11ac Wave 2.  The paper covers vertical markets, with public venues (which I call "hospitality") and education being the first two mentioned.  Those two markets are exactly where I can imagine 802.11ac Wave 2 making a difference.  The paper also covers 802.11 Wave 2 technology.  It is especially useful in describing Wave 2's headlining technology -- multi-user multiple-input/multiple-output (MU-MIMO) -- in simple, understandable terms. 

This blog wouldn't be what it is if I didn't disagree with some things here and there, and Extreme's paper certainly has some areas that raised my eyebrows.  For example, I'm less enthusiastic than Extreme on the idea that there's a business case for upgrading to Wave 2, especially in vertical markets where desktop and notebook computers are less prevalent.  

Part of the reason that Extreme's eBook interested me is that I'm a Wi-Fi guy, not a business guy.  I try to focus on Wi-Fi technology, and let the CIOs of the world to determine whether an 802.11ac Wave 2 upgrade would make the most of a capital budget.

As a technology guy, ever since I learned about 802.11ac (some via experience; some by reading Matthew Gast's "802.11ac: A Survival Guide") I felt that the real performance improvements wouldn't get here until Wave 2.  

My belief in 802.11ac Wave 2 was largely due to MU-MIMO.  MU-MIMO allows multiple devices to receive data streams from a single AP at once.  That's a huge improvement because APs often support more MIMO streams than devices support.  With 802.11ac Wave 1 APs, four-stream MIMO means two "wasted" streams because almost all 802.11ac Wave 1 devices support two streams or less.  With 802.11ac Wave 2, a four-stream AP could use MU-MIMO to send two streams to two different devices at the same time, essentially doubling the channel's performance capability.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize what MU-MIMO requires from Wi-Fi devices.  I first noticed it when Andrew Von Nagy of the Revolution Wi-Fi blog mentioned on Twitter that MU-MIMO devices would have to support transmit beamforming (TxBF).  Then I watched Chuck Lukaszewski’s MU-MIMO presentation from the recent Wireless Lan Professionals Conference and he really illustrated the problem: TxBF and MU-MIMO require a lot of extra transmitting from Wi-Fi devices, and transmitting drains battery life.

My fear is that MU-MIMO and TxBF will never be widely available on battery-sensitive devices.  Smartphone and tablet makers may eschew 802.11ac Wave 2 to optimize battery life, even if it means lower speeds.  (The good news is that desktop computers, notebook computers and other devices that remain connected to a power source most of the time [televisions, video streaming boxes, video game consoles, etc.] seem more likely to adopt 802.11ac Wave 2 because battery life is not an issue.)  

The decision on whether to upgrade to 802.11ac Wave 2 is one that may depend on lots of variables.  If you're looking for more information on some of those variables, check out "The 5 Essential Elements in the 802.11ac Wave 2 Business Case".  It might lend clarity to your decision.

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Brought to you by Extreme Networks. The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent Extreme’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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