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Bigger, better, faster: What does Wave 2 of 802.11ac have in store?

802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi WiFi
Credit: flickr/mista stagga lee

"Bigger, better, faster" is a mantra with which many of us are now familiar. Even if it isn't something we have printed on a t-shirt, it can be how we strive to live without often realizing it. Improvement is a part of life. You don't have to look hard to see examples of certain things that have already realized their great potential for improvement. But what about things we take for granted, like wireless?  

Wireless is all around us, but it's something we take for granted. Sometimes it’s harder to find a business or public location without Wi-Fi than it is to find one with it. So can wireless actually advance? 

Whether it's in the boardroom or the living room, we have expectations of buttery-smooth audio and video. As the number of wireless devices grows at a profound rate, how can we shore up the wireless network to provide service to all that’s connected? Wireless AC may be the light at the end of the tunnel. With Wave 1 speeds of 1.3Gbps (your mileage may vary) we're offered a chance to handle the larger amount of requests constantly bombarding our access points (APs). Still, the struggle in dense environments continues. Enter Wave 2. 

What sets Wave 2 apart? The most obvious is potential bandwidth leaping up to 7.8Gbps. That is a large leap forward. In addition, there is a new add-on called multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). Sounds fun, right? So what does MU-MIMO offer us? Wireless traditionally works on a single transaction between the client and the AP one at a time. The difference with MU-MIMO is that it can interact with multiple users at once. Traditional single-user MIMO has even been compared to a hub, while the multi-user MIMO is compared to a switch. This enhancement, along with much higher potential bandwidth, goes a long way toward addressing the congestion many wireless networks are plagued with today.  

What is the price? It can be looked at not just in dollars and cents (though that is certainly a consideration), but also the cost in infrastructure. Moving from 1 gigabit to several-times larger presents issues when you consider that the typical AP likely has a single 1-gig connection. What are the future implications? How many drops would be needed to run to an AP? Could it even take more than one connection? 

Cisco has already started addressing this eventuality with multi-gigabit switches. Other vendors will undoubtedly provide their own solutions. Until we see the future of AC Wave 2 APs, it may be hard to decide, but it's good to be prepared and consider the potential options.

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