If you're a fan of 70s music, particularly Canadian artists, you are probably familiar with the great singer Burton Cummings. In the late 70s he released a song called "My own way to rock" that started: "Revving up my engine, like a 747 mama, shiny, lanky, long and lean, and I'm mean." When Cummings wrote this song, I'm sure he was talking about the impact of digital transformation that would come 40 years later and how businesses need to be lean, mean, agile machines to leapfrog the competition.
One of the important factors in being able to rev up the business engine is that things need to be done faster than ever before. Speed is an important component for the digitization of businesses, as now we need to get information, make decisions, and serve customers faster than ever before. This is particularly true for the wireless network, as it has become the foundation for new engagement models.
The latest revision of Wi-Fi, 802.11AC Wave 2, brings gigabit speed to the wireless network and puts it on par or even ahead of the wired network. Historically, workers had to choose between a fast-wired connection and the freedom of wireless. However, users no longer have to compromise, as now they can have speed and mobility. In addition to speed, Wave 2 brings MU-MIMO to Wi-Fi. This feature dedicates bandwidth on a per-user basis bringing wired switch-like performance to Wi-Fi. Now you can stream Burton Cummings to your mobile device without degrading the performance of the network for everyone else.
The era of gigabit Wi-Fi is now here, as earlier this year Ruckus became the first vendor to have commercially available Wave 2 access points. I actually did a webinar with Ruckus, the City of San Jose, and the Vancouver (Washington, not BC) Public School Systems on this topic last week. Based on the Q&A in the webinar and the conversations I've had with network managers before, there seems to be a couple of points of concern with Wave 2, primarily: do businesses really need gigabit Wi-Fi, and is it worth the price premium?
I strongly urge any organization that's looking at a Wi-Fi deployment or upgrade to take a serious look at 802.11AC Wave 2 for the following reasons:
Wave 2 APs will cost about 10% more than Wave 1, so I understand why there might be some question of whether the extra cost is worth it. In my opinion, not deploying Wave 2 APs is very short-sighted. The replacement cycle of APs is typically 18 to 24 months, so organizations that deploy Wave 1 now will likely have to replace them in that timeframe. For a 10% premium in cost, businesses will be able to skip the next upgrade and get another two years out of this deployment. A 10% premium for an extra 18 to 24 months? Seems like a no brainer.
Applications are becoming richer and more bandwidth-intensive
It seems that every network upgrade brings the question, "do we need this much bandwidth?" The answer is unequivocally and undeniably yes. Applications are becoming richer in content and larger in file size. Just a few years ago a 5 MB PowerPoint seemed ridiculously large. But now I get some sent to me that are over 10. Also, streaming and real-time video usage continues to grow, and guess what? Workers want this capability on a mobile device.
One of the arguments against Wave 2 is that there aren't any Wave 2-compliant devices. To me, this is a ridiculous argument to make, as Wave 2 devices will be here within a year. Understanding that, why wouldn't you deploy a network that's capable of supporting them instead of being forced to upgrade sooner or giving users a degraded experience.
Connected wireless endpoint growth
In addition to the growth of phones, tablets, and laptops, the Internet of Things will connect a wide variety of devices over the Wi-Fi network, including alarm systems, badge readers, appliances, medical equipment, and almost anything you can think of. In fact, within five years the industry will see a 10x increase in the number of connected wireless devices.
802.11AC Wave 2 is a game-changing technology and can help businesses take advantage of digitization. As businesses look to leverage the wireless network more for new business models, there will be greater expectations place on Wi-Fi. Be aggressive with Wave 2 and get a jump on the competition.