Are you thinking of upgrading your wireless network to the latest IEEE ratified release of alphabet soup, designed to make your head spin with how fast your end users are able to complete their jobs and other responsibilities? In this article, you will discover some of the mines and other underwater obstacles you may face when upgrading your WiFi.
A wireless network is only as fast as the underlying wired network.
Some readers may find this to be an obvious statement, but it has to be mentioned when discussing IT infrastructure. Logic tells us, any time you want to add or augment services on your network, the impact of those changes needs to be evaluated beforehand.
The IEEE 802.11ac standard allows for theoretical speeds up to 6.9Gbps. Speeds between 1.5 Gbps and 2.5Gbps are more realistic depending on the wireless vendor and options you are considering. The double-edged sword here is that you have essentially moved your bottleneck from the wireless access point to the wired network. The solution is to leverage multi-gigabit Ethernet, but this has its own caveats since 2.5/5 Gbps is supported on 100m of Cat 5e/6 and 10 Gbps is supported on 100m of Cat 6a.
Now that you have completed your site survey to determine where your APs are going, wiring project to get the 6a copper to the APs, and installed new multi-gigabit Ethernet access switches in your closets, you can start banging away on your access point installations, right? OOPS, we almost forgot the uplinks to your distribution layer/core! With all of the added bandwidth on your APs connecting to your access switches, you may as well be plugging into a toaster if your uplinks are not up to the challenge. You will certainly need at least multiple 10 Gigabit or, even better, 40 Gigabit uplinks. Do your core switches need a refresh?
5GHz – the wave of the future (as long as the FCC keeps giving us more channels)
One of the awesome things about 802.11ac wave 2, is we can have channel widths of up to 160 MHz! Imagine all the data you can push with that kind of superhighway. The caveat here is there are only 2 available 160MHz channels at the time of writing, with more coming as soon as the FCC says we can start utilizing it. We thought 2.4 GHz’s 3 non-overlapping channels were bad?
Ok, so super huge channel widths are not yet feasible in a majority of use cases – now what? Depending on the goals for your wireless project, 20/40/80MHz wide channels are obviously still options and you can gain big performance enhancements over previous iterations of 802.11. With 802.11ac wave 2, such enhancements include Multi-user MIMO (multiple-input/multi-output) and an additional spacial stream. Please keep in mind that in order to take advantage of wave 2 technology, both the access point, as well as the client, need to support it.
You might be in the market to replace your aging WiFi solution to help improve your users’ overall network experience. You might even already own the latest 802.11 hardware, but need verification that it is running efficiently, using the latest best practices, or to help identify any network bottlenecks. Peters & Associates can help!