The answer is when it makes sense for you. The longer you wait the greater the likelihood that “all” of the 802.11ac standards will be implemented, products will be more mature, you will be more prepared, and prices will more than likely come down.
The 802.11ac IEEE standard is the next generation of WiFi and the successor to 802.11n. As was the case with the initial introduction of 802.11n WiFi there is now a lot of buzz around the introduction of 802.11ac WiFi. Consumer products for 802.11ac access points are available now from manufacturers such as Netgear and D-Link. Clients will be available by late 2012 to early 2013. Enterprise 802.11ac access points will be available by mid – late 2013. But when will it really be ready to deploy and when should you make your move? The following are a few points to keep in mind and will help guide you in your migration to 802.11ac.
Basic comparison between 802.11n and 802.11ac:
|MIMO||Introduced with 11n||Supported with 11ac and will require additional antennas to achieve maximum throughput||Increased performance|
|Channel bandwidth||20 and 40 MHz||20, 40, and 80MHz and maybe 160MHz||Increased performance|
|Spatial Streams||1 – 4 Spatial Streams||1 – 8 Spatial Streams||Increased performance|
|Multi-user MIMO||Not available in the first release||Optional but will not be available in first generation products||Support for simultaneous client sessions|
|Frequency||2.4 and 5GHz band||5GHz band only||5Ghz has less noise, and a much greater number of non-overlapping channels|
|Bandwidth per spatial stream||150Mbps||433Mbps||Increased performance|
|Modulation||BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM||BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM and 256QAM modulation||Increased performance|
By using 802.11ac clients on existing 802.11n WiFi networks users can experience increased performance and less interference immediately without upgrading the WiFi infrastructure to 802.11ac.
- 802.11ac will be 5GHz only and it will be backwards compatible with 802.11n which protects your existing 802.11n investment
- When 802.11ac clients are available they will be able to enjoy increased performance with less interference over the 5GHz band using existing 802.11n access points
- Running 802.11ac clients on 802.11n access points will also provide increases in battery life due to the higher bandwidths
Things to keep in mind as you consider your plans for 802.11ac:
- Beware of products that claim they can offer upgrades to existing hardware. Although in theory this may be true, if the existing product did not take into consideration the increased CPU and memory requirements for 802.11ac you may gain nothing. Additionally 802.11ac will require new hardware for both the access points and client devices, there is no such thing as a software upgrade
- WiFi controllers that require access point traffic to run back through the controller may not be able to handle the increased traffic of 802.11ac
- Part of the increase performance gains are accomplished by increasing the channel bandwidth from 40MHz in 802.11n to at least 80MHz in 802.11ac. So even though 802.11ac is backward compatible with 802.11n all client devices will need to be upgraded to 802.11ac in order to take advantage of the actual performance gains
- Multi-user MIMO (MU- MIMO) is one of the big performance features for 802.11ac but it will not be available in first generation 802.11ac products and may not be available for a long time. MU-MIMO essentially allows for the AP run multiple spatial streams and transmit simultaneously to more than one client. Something not even possible with 802.11n
- The 802.11ac technology will not be ratified by the WiFi alliance until mid – late 2013. This means that things could still change
- As of this writing the FCC (US) is yet to rule on use of 80Mhz channels
Complete implementation for all of the 802.11ac standards are still probably 2 – 3 years out and although there may be incremental gains to be had by moving to 802.11ac now you may also be able to achieve substantial gains by using 802.11ac clients on your existing 802.11n network.
As with most RF implementation 802.11ac is complicated and will require that you do your homework prior to actual implementation. There is plenty of information on the topic on the internet. For questions or help in planning your migration to 802.11ac please contact Enterasys through our Web site and we will be happy to help.