Remember the old days when Wi-Fi was much slower than a wired connection? Workers were forced to choose between speed and mobility. Plug into the wired network and have great connectivity speeds so users could browse the web quickly, watch streamed videos, copy files from one location to the other, or send that large attachment off. Alternatively, a worker might choose to go wireless to have the freedom to roam around the building. Sitting at a desk and want to move into a conference room? No problem, just use Wi-Fi. Just remember to send that large PowerPoint out when you reconnect to the wired network.
Well, that decision is about to be gone forever. We’re on the precipice of having Wi-Fi speeds that will not only be on par with wired, but will blow by the 1 Gig connection that most workers have at their desk. The next phase of Wi-Fi, 802.11AC Wave 2, is almost upon us, and it brings wireless speeds of up to almost 7 Gigs. For the first time ever, applications will work better over wireless than they will over wired. Wave 2 also brings multi-user MIMO to Wi-Fi, enabling dedicated bandwidth to be allocated to users. 802.11AC Wave 2 will allow businesses to create new ways of working, such as being able to do medical imaging over tablets or streaming videos to mobile devices in school systems.
Having wireless speeds that are that fast, though, does have some big implications on the wired network. If the air speed is anything greater than a Gig and the backhaul connection from the AP to the access switch is a Gig, then there’s an obvious problem, as the wired network becomes a choke point. Also, the Wave 2 solutions will require PoE+ (30W), and many businesses only have PoE (15W) in the access edge now. Also, with today’s switches, Cat5E has a limit of 1 Gig for speed.
So, what’s a network manager to do? Rip out all of the old switches and put new ones in? Pull all new cable to the locations where there are access points? Put new power supplies in all the wiring closets? Having to do all of that could make the migration to 802.11AC Wave 2 an expensive, disruptive process.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. This week Cisco posted a blog introducing something the company calls “Multigigabit” technology to enable the migration to 802.11AC Wave 2. A Multigigabit switch will follow the NBASE-T specifications, which are Ethernet speeds of 1 Gig, 2.5 Gig, 5 Gig or 10 Gig all from the same port. The best part is that Multigigabit runs on existing Cat5E/6 cabling, so there’s no need to run new cables. ZK Research estimates the cost of a cable pull at anywhere from $300 to $1000 per cable run, so being able to use the existing cables can save huge amounts of money (disclosure: I am an employee of ZK Research). The new technology also has flexible power and can deliver PoE, PoE+, or Cisco’s own UPOE (60W).
For Cisco customers, another benefit is that the Multigigabit technology works on the existing Cisco 4500E and 3850 switches. This means a 4500E customer can purchase a single Multigig line card to connect the APs and leave the rest of the switch as is. Similarly, the 3850 Multigigbit models can be stacked with existing models, providing investment protection.
I believe 802.11AC Wave 2 will be a game-changing wireless technology as it breaks the Gigabit barrier for speed. Cisco’s Multigigabit technology allows customers to make this transition without breaking the bank.