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Wi-Fi: Traffic Spikes Driving Improvements

January 2014

When educational institutions, hospitals, and enterprises first installed Wi-Fi, wireless was seen as a convenience to staff and frequently as “nice to have”. Smartphones and tablet computers are now ubiquitous in organizations and Wi-Fi is regularly viewed as a critical service. It’s common for organizations’ networks to have more wireless devices than desktop computers. This has created congestion in Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi support for high-definition video

Increases in video traffic streamed over home networks to high-definition TVs via Apple TV and Roku type set-top boxes and game consoles are congesting Wi-Fi home networks. It’s not unusual for home networks to have multiple TVs streaming Internet based movies and TV in contention with wireless traffic to smart phones and tablet computers. Moreover, schools are starting to give students tablet computers such as Chromebooks for homework assignments. Chromebooks require an Internet connection to operate.

What is 802.11ac Wi-Fi?

802.11ac is the proposed Wi-Fi standard that has been developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE). It will eventually transmit signals at gigabit speeds and thus has been informally dubbed Gigabit Ethernet. Although, the IEEE expects the standard to be approved in early 2014, first generation 802.11ac gear is now available that meets the proposed standard.

Will Gigabit Wi-Fi interoperate with older Wi-Fi equipment?

Yes, 802.11ac will interoperate with Wi-Fi equipment based on earlier protocols. The non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance certifies interoperability between Wi-Fi equipment that is based on IEEE standards. The 802.11ac gear certified by the Alliance has been tested to interoperate with older Wi-Fi equipment as well as other manufacturers’ 80211ac access points and handheld devices.

How is 802.11ac different than older Wi-Fi protocols?

802.11ac gear operates on the higher, less crowded, 5-gigahertz frequency. 802.11b and 802.11g, operate on the 2.4-gigahertz. 802.11a and 802.11n also operate at 5-gigahertz. In addition, 802.11ac uses beamforming and wider channels that are discussed below.

What about interoperability between portable devices and access points with 802.11ac?

To take advantage of capacity increases, both user devices and Wi-Fi access points must be equipped with 802.11ac chips.

Is 802.11ac equipment available?

Some new smartphones such as Samsung and HTC models include chips for 802.11ac first generation Wi-Fi. Most manufacturers including Apple, Linksys, Cisco, and Aerohive offer routers with built in 802.11ac capability. Interestingly, Apple equips its Wi-Fi router and Air laptop with 802.11ac, but not its new iPhone 5S.

Which technologies enable 802.11ac’s capacity?

Beamforming, the ability to transmit concentrated streams of data to single devices is a key element. Beamforming is analogous to a hose whose nozzle concentrates water into multiple single streams rather than spreading the stream of water over a wide area. 802.11ac routers are equipped with multiple antennas each with beamforming capability.

Another key element is Gigabit Wi-Fi’s wider channels. Wider channels carry more bits per second on each wireless channel. Importantly, 802.11ac gear is equipped with powerful computer chips able to process more data, faster.

What are some installation tips?

802.11ac access points should be installed in areas with high concentrations of traffic. It’s critical to check with vendors that supply wireless security services such as wireless intrusion protection systems to make sure they can decipher 802.11ac’s signals.

Are there any infrastructure upgrades required when installing 802.11ac access points?

Data grade cabling that supports Gigabit speeds is required in business networks to support gigabit access points. Enterprises without this cabling may need costly cable between each 802.11ac access point and switches in wiring closets. Enterprises may also need additional power for each of the 802.11ac access points.

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