Cisco recently briefed me on an interesting product direction they discussed at their latest Cisco Live event, an add-on 802.11ac module for their popular 3600 series of APs. In addition to being one of the few four-antenna .11n products on the market, the 3600 has a modular architecture that enables the bolting on of additional functionality. Cisco previously announced a security monitor module for off-channel ClearnAir scanning, and the .11ac module will support 3x3:3 1.3 Gbps capability. Both modules are scheduled for availability in 1Q13, a little ahead of my prediction with respect to 802.11ac in the enterprise.
There is little doubt that the as-yet-unfinished 802.11ac standard will eventually supersede 802.11n. This will take many years - at a recent symposium I Chaired for the Boston Section of the IEEE Communications Society, the panel of analysts assembled pretty much settled on 2015 as the timeframe for critical mass for 802.11n in the enterprise - with one thinking it could in fact be much later than that. I'm expecting reasonable numbers of enterprise-class .11ac products to appear in the second half of next year. As I noted above, I didn't expect an announcement to that effect so soon, and especially from industry leader Cisco. Aggressive? Certainly. But the evolution to .11ac is inevitable, and implementing the functionality in an add-on module eliminates the cannibalization risk that would otherwise be present. Indeed, such might actually spur sales of the 3600 as the technological risk is minimized.
The only risk, in fact, might be with respect to cost, as pricing for the module has not been announced. Nonetheless, the benefits of a modular implementations are once again reinforced, even if the assumed success of .11ac remains well off in the future.
By the way - I'll be at Mobile Connect in Boston the first part of the coming week. If you're attending, please stop by to say hello. And if you're in the Boston area and not yet made up your mind to attend, use the code SPEAKER25 for a 25% discount or a free Expo pass. See you there.
Mathias is a principal at Farpoint Group, a wireless advisory firm in Ashland, Mass.