Enterprises Should Optimize the Timing of 802.11ac Adoption
To optimize wireless LAN price/performance, most clients can carefully time their deployment of 802.11ac technology, the wireless industry's newest high-speed standard, which will be released in two waves of functionality between 2014 and 2016.
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11ac will provide enterprises with higher performance and the ability to communicate to multiple clients in the same coverage area at the same time, but implementations should be carefully timed to control costs.
- Multiuser multiple input/multiple output (MU-MIMO) addresses performance and scalability problems posed by highly dense environments, but won't be available to enterprises until the later (Wave 2) 802.11ac chipsets, available by 1Q16.
- The new standard operates only at 5GHz; therefore, enterprise clients that require 2.4GHz for wireless connectivity will still need to utilize 802.11n.
- Clients should migrate to 802.11ac at their own pace since most individual end-users' average connectivity needs will remain at 5 Mbps through 2016.
- Unless there is a business requirement to migrate to 802.11ac Wave 1, in order to minimize costs, wait to adopt the technology until Wave 2 is available (by 1Q16).
- If your company needs MU-MIMO technology, it will not be available until Wave 2. If possible, wait until then to adopt 802.11ac.
- Ensure that any 802.11ac-capable access points have integrated dual radio functionality to leverage 802.11ac, which operates at 5GHz, and also support 2.4GHz legacy clients.
- Extend the useful life of existing 802.11n technology by evaluating existing usage scenarios and, if appropriate, applying interim load balancing and access point management tactics.
Since WLANs were first introduced, enterprises have always strived to achieve performance on par with wired networks. Based on a wide range of usage scenarios, Gartner recommended that typical enterprise users did not need access to more than 5 Mbps of wired or wireless connectivity to the desktop or mobile end-user client. With the ratification of 802.11n in 2009, WLANs crossed the 100 Mbps threshold and put them on par with wired access layer connectivity options. The ratification of IEEE 802.11ac in late 2013 or early 2014 will take wireless connectivity to the next level when it introduces the industry's next high-speed WLAN technology that will initially be able to provide 1.3 Gbps and, ultimately, over 3 Gbps.
Heavy, emerging usage scenarios outside the enterprise, such as stadiums, convention centers and hot spots, may benefit from new 802.11ac capabilities. However, through 2016, we think that, unless gigabit performance to the desktop is needed, enterprises will find that the 802.11n access points already in place will be sufficient to address current and growing enterprise wireless needs. Therefore, enterprises should carefully investigate their current and anticipated use cases, as well as existing technology options, before purchasing 802.11ac.
Source: Gartner (September 2013)
IEEE 802.11ac will provide enterprises with higher performance and the ability to communicate to multiple clients in the same coverage area at the same time, but implementations should be carefully timed to control costs
The ratification of IEEE 802.11ac marks the first time in networking history that enterprise wireless clients will potentially be capable of communicating faster than their 100 Mbps wired counterparts at the edge of the network. Examples of potential early adopters include streaming video surveillance or continual large file transfer (such as CAD files in engineering organizations or MRI files in healthcare). In the initial release, Wave 1 802.11ac products will be able to communicate at 1.3 Gbps.
802.11ac will be released in two waves, with the second capable of over 3 Mbps. However, it is not software upgradable from Wave 1 and will require a forklift upgrade.
- Evaluate if your business requirements truly call for Wave 1 802.11ac, because moving to Wave 2 to requires a new radio module. This is especially important because we expect Wave 2 will be available less than 24 months after the debut of Wave 1 (by 1Q16).
- Ensure that application bandwidth requirements and transaction density have been properly calculated to define all usage scenarios.
MU-MIMO addresses performance and scalability problems posed by highly dense environments, but won't be available to enterprises until the later (Wave 2) 802.11ac chipsets, available by 1Q16
Spatial reuse allows multiple clients to communicate in adjacent access points simultaneously. This functionality provides a better utilization of the overall wireless bandwidth and is part of the original 802.11 standard. One of the new changes in the new 802.11ac standard is the ability for multiple clients to communicate at the same time, in the same coverage area. This increases the performance through the differing spatial streams and simultaneously helps resolve issues in high-density areas where there are many clients trying to communicate at one time. This functionality will be introduced in 802.11ac Wave 2 products.
802.11ac supports up to eight spatial streams, twice as many as 802.11n. Additionally, 802.11ac will be able to support up to four clients at one time using MU-MIMO, while 802.11n will only support one. 802.11ac also supports standardized beamforming,1 which creates compatibility between access point vendors. While beamforming is available for 802.11n solutions, it is vendor-specific.
- Clients interested in using 802.11ac MU-MIMO technology must wait for Wave 2. Thus, to minimize costs, they should skip Wave 1 if at all possible.
The new standard operates only at 5GHz; therefore, enterprise clients that require 2.4GHz for wireless connectivity will still need to utilize 802.11n
Many existing models of smartphones and older laptops are only capable of transmitting in the 2.4GHz band. We also anticipate that enterprises will continue to use legacy 2.4GHz-only devices for the next three to five years as 5GHz is integrated into newer models. Additionally, vertical market specific components in healthcare, education or retail such as active RFID asset tags, smart boards and mobile point of sale (POS) will have longer life cycles enterprises will need to continue to support 2.4GHz until these devices are retired.
- Ensure that your wireless strategy includes legacy 2.4GHz devices and that any 802.11ac-capable access points have integrated dual radio functionality to leverage both 5GHz 802.11ac and 2.4GHz legacy clients.
- Use band steering2 to ensure that all 5GHz-capable devices are moved to the higher-speed spectrum (whether they are 802.11n or 802.11ac).
Clients should migrate to 802.11ac at their own pace, since most individual end users' average connectivity needs will remain at 5 Mbps through 2016
It is important that enterprises assess both how users are connecting to the enterprise and the performance their applications require. Since Internet video streaming can be characterized by 100 to 200 Kbps and unicast high-definition video is less than 2 to 3 Mbps to a laptop, the requirements for data, voice and video performance are covered in Gartner's planning assumption that clients will typically not need more than 5 Mbps of shared network access per user for their applications. The continued increase in mobile connectivity means that transaction density (or the number of users attached to a single access point) becomes the bottleneck.
Enterprises can address transaction density issues to extend the useful life of their 802.11n networks by either:
- Lowering the transmit power of existing access points to limit the number of clients in the coverage area
- Layering an additional access point on a different channel in the troubled coverage area and using the load-balancing algorithms of the WLAN to alleviate high transaction density areas
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By 2016, native 802.11ac solutions will attain less than 10% penetration in the enterprise wireless LAN (WLAN) market.
2 Band steering is the process in which the access point tries to move a client to a different wireless frequency or band. For example, some clients prefer to connect to the 2.4GHz frequency (band) because the radio may use less power or transmit with a stronger signal. Due to the number of clients attached to the network or network policy, the access point will try to move the client to 5GHz where there is the option of higher performance.