Since the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced and certified 802.11n, Wi-Fi has become widely recognized as the primary edge connection for organizations world-wide. A 2007 Burton Group report entitled “The end of Ethernet” accurately predicted Wi-Fi taking over from wired Ethernet as the de-facto standard in modern networks.
Today we see 802.11n as the standard interface on PCs, tablets, smartphones and other networked devices. This proliferation of Wi-Fi interfaces means more mobile devices and their associated data (including HD video) find themselves on corporate networks, while the capacity and data rates enabled by 802.11n may at times seem barely adequate to support this trend.
Fortunately the IEEE 802.11 working group and the Wi-Fi Alliance have already begun working on the successor to 802.11n – 802.11ac.
Expected to achieve final IEEE ratification at the end of 2013, 802.11ac provides enhancements to the techniques pioneered in 802.11n to deliver greater reliability and higher throughput in the 5-Ghz band; more antennas, wider channels, more spatial streams and a number of new features to increase throughput, capacity and reliability.
The increased performance and higher capacity of 802.11ac have tremendous appeal for organizations rapidly approaching the limits of their current Wi-Fi network, or for organizations that are striving to adopt next-generation applications or interactive network experiences. To help identify these opportunities, the following represents the top use cases for adopting 802.11ac technology today.
1. Deploying HD video over Wi-Fi
- Large enterprises that rollout HD video conferencing.
- Hospitals or medical clinics utilizing Wi-Fi for HD medical imaging and surgical procedures.
- Universities or other higher-education facilities deploying campus-wide IPTV and video streaming.
2. Projecting HD images and video from mobile devices
- Large enterprises utilizing Apple TV/Bonjour gateways in conference rooms and other gathering spaces.
- Education (primary/K-12 schools and higher-education facilities) to promote active learning spaces/collaboration/distance learning.
3. High client-dense Wi-Fi environments
- Enterprise networks with large common areas / conference rooms that need additional capacity.
- Large public venues (LPVs)/hotspot operators – stadiums, movie theaters, shopping arcades where large numbers of consumers/guests congregate and utilize publicly available Wi-Fi.
- Education (primary/K-12 /universities) accommodating large numbers of students and devices in auditoriums and common gathering areas.
4. Deploying interactive applications
- LPVs – movie theaters/shopping arcades/sporting stadiums that are adopting point-of-view (POV) applications for greater interaction with guests and VIPs.
5. Adoption of the All Wireless Office
- Large enterprises migrating away from static computing environments, opening their floor plans and utilizing Ethernet strictly for PoE+/transport with Wi-Fi as the only medium for edge connectivity.
6. 802.11a/b/g migration and greenfield Wi-Fi opportunities
- Enterprises migrating off legacy technology and bypassing 802.11n to deploy the latest Wi-Fi standard.
- Organizations looking to deliver better RF management and traffic prioritization while future-proofing the network.
7. Increasing performance and reliability of mission-critical applications
- Large enterprises looking to overcome performance issues and reliability concerns for rolling out large scale Microsoft Lync, VDI, mobile CRM, and other applications over Wi-Fi.
802.11ac is clearly going to dominate enterprise Wi-Fi deployments, but many organizations will take some time to upgrade their networks to be able to transition to this new standard. Proper planning and execution can ensure a painless transition for network operators and end users.
However, some organizations may already have a need for the improvements in performance, capacity and reliability of 802.11ac over prior 802.11 standards. As such, the availability of enterprise-class, purpose-built 802.11ac APs will prompt these organizations to start upgrading right away to satisfy the organizations business needs.
To ensure a smooth transition to 802.11ac, it is important to make sure the network is ready. Simply deploying 802.11ac on top of existing 802.11a/b/g/n networks will not yield desired results. Thus, conducting a readiness assessment prior to deployment is an important first step and can deliver the highest degree of success.