How to Beat the Wired Network Bottleneck and Wring More Business Value from your WLAN

Key is to take full advantage of advances in WiFi AP technology

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If you’re looking at deploying 802.11ac Wi-Fi access point (AP) technology, as most companies have already, you may want to consider upgrading the speed of your wired connection between your APs and your wiring-closet Ethernet switch to avoid the kind of network saturation that puts a damper on worker productivity. 

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard now accounts for 67.1% of dependent wireless AP shipments and more than 80% of revenue, “setting the stage for near obsolescence of the 802.11n standard by 2018 in the mainstream enterprise segment,” according to the research firm IDC.

This is significant because 802.11ac access points can support multiple data streams from a single device, up to 100 devices per AP, and larger bandwidth channels than 802.11n. An 802.11ac AP can support a max wireless data rate of 1.3G bps from a single device, with actual throughput about half that.

And that’s the so-called wave 1 version that came out in 2013. Newer wave 2 802.11 APs are far more powerful, supporting actual throughput exceeding 1G bps from a single device – and far more devices per AP. Theoretically, a single 802.11ac Wave 2 AP could support a total capacity of 6.9G bps.

The question becomes, can the physical network that those APs connect to handle that kind of capacity? If that network is based on Gigabit Ethernet on Cat 5e or Cat 6 twisted pair cabling, the answer historically has been “no” because it supported a max data rate of 1G bps over 100 meters.

But that’s changing with the advent of the IEEE 802.3bz standard, approved in the fall of 2016. The standard was developed with help from Aquantia, a network chip-maker that developed technology for increasing network speeds to 2.5G and 5G bps over existing Cat 5e/Cat 6 twisted pair cable. Along with Cisco, Aquantia formed the NBASE-T Alliance to promote the technology and develop specifications and products in advance of the finished IEEE 802.3bz spec.

The NBASE-T Alliance now has more than 45 members, many of which shipped products supporting the 2.5G/5G spec well before the standard was finalized, thus helping get this market take off quickly and in sync with the 802.11ac Wave 2 AP deployments.

That’s something of a godsend for enterprises facing the limitation that the wired Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure would otherwise represent. With support for just 1G bps connections, it’s clear the wired network would quickly become a choke point as users seek to connect an increasing number of wireless devices, many of them consuming larger and larger amounts of bandwidth.

An analysis by Cisco shows a single smart phone may connect to an AP at 563M bps, while a tablet could connect at 1.13G bps and a laptop at up to 1.69G bps. Now imagine five or six users in a huddle room, all connecting their laptops to an online web conference. It’s not hard to see how that twisted pair connection from the AP could be easily overwhelmed – and how the user experience would suffer.

Consider also guest access to the network, which most companies offer (even 35% of SMBs offer Wi-Fi to guests). It doesn’t send a very good message about your company if your guests, including customers, have trouble getting at the resources they need while in your offices.

NBASE-T/IEEE802.3bz compliant products provide a viable solution to the bottleneck problem. And it’s one that comes at a cost that’s far less than the alternative: upgrading your cabling to Cat6a or better, which supports 10GBASE-T standards. Cisco puts the cost of new cable at $200 to $800 per AP; for large networks with hundreds of APs, the cost can easily run into hundreds of thousands.

As you look to make upgrades to your wireless infrastructure, products that support Multi-Gigabit Ethernet NBASE-T/IEEE 802.3bz deserve careful consideration to deliver optimized productivity for your employees and take full advantage of the latest WiFi AP capabilities.

For more information, visit www.aquantia.com.


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.