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GCN : August 2014
6 WIRELESS *Source: Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Forecast, IDC, September 2013 Worldwide smartphone shipments grew 40%, to more than 1 billion units in 2013 and are on pace to reach 1.7 billion units by 2017.* WHAT'S DRIVING THE DEMAND FOR EFFICIENT WI FI NETWORKS? 40% A growing number of manufacturers are already shipping first-wave 802.11ac products for consumers and plan to expand offerings for network environments in the coming year. A Second Wave in Performance Speed and efficiency will ramp up even higher when Wave 2 devices for 802.11ac arrive. They'll offer additional improvements in channel bonding by handling up to 160MHz, along with support for four spatial streams. These capabilities will help second-wave devices achieve throughput of around 3.47Gbps. "More streams mean more bandwidth, and more bandwidth means more devices covered within scope," Hardy says. Commercial products supporting the second wave of 802.11ac will likely arrive within the next two years, says Mike Fratto, principal analyst at the market research firm Current Analysis. These second-generation products will also feature multiuser MIMO (MU-MIMO), which will enable APs to simultaneously send multiple frames to multiple clients over the same frequency spectrum. With multiple antennas and embedded intelligence, a Wave 2 AP will operate like a wireless switch. MU-MIMO is particularly well suited for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments that support smartphones and tablets with single antennas. "Multiuser MIMO will allow improved bandwidth granularity and availability for expanded individual coverage," Hardy says. "However, there will be clear downside considerations, such as the infrastructure's ability to carry the increased load." A Four-Step Game Plan With all these performance and efficiency improvements on the horizon, network administrators must develop migration plans that can address both their existing investments in 802.11 networks while also preparing their organizations' for successive phases of 802.11ac. To do that, administrators should first determine if there's a clear case for modernizing in the near term, Hardy advises. "There are very few mobile applications that drive performance improvement, and there are very few deployments that drive insane density, though they surely exist," he points out. "Once a need is determined, network administrators must then understand the carrying power of their current infrastructure." Second, IT managers should be considering more than just the effect a move to 802.11ac will have on their WLANs, says Matt Ellis, vice president of service availability and performance management for IBM. "Having high volumes of data flowing in from Wi-Fi access points means organizations are also carrying more traffic across their WANs," he says. "Therefore, it's key to evaluate 802.11ac for its potential to have a significant impact on network design and management." Ellis adds that some network administrators are investigating how they can better control the amount of traffic the core network will be required to carry. "For example, what are the implications of having a meeting where a large number of people are all trying to connect to a certain access point at the same time?" he says. "The result may be an overload of one access point and some interesting dynamics in terms of the movement of traffic in a wireless network." Third, network administrators should assure that they can provide adequate power from switches in 802.11ac environments, Hardy says. "Additionally, will more access points be needed in a highly walled facility, and is running cables to them feasible?" Fourth, the IT team should create a workable migration timetable that addresses the two-phased introduction of 802.11ac capabilities. Knowing the organization's operational requirements will be an essential factor in determining when to act. "If the current solution is falling behind and something needs to be done, then moving forward might be the right move," Hardy says. "Wave 2 is a ways off, and upgrades needed today simply shouldn't wait." That said, as the release of Wave 2 products nears, some organizations will likely want to delay investments in favor of newer technologies coming to market, he adds. Network product makers are helping smooth transitions with flexible AP solutions. This includes products like Cisco Aironet 3600 Series access points, which support 802.11n and are field-upgradable to 802.11ac and the new Cisco Aironet 3700 Series native 802.11ac access points. For now, the best migration strategy may be to test limited deployments of 802.11ac APs in various locations throughout an organization. "I firmly believe 2014 is the year that organizations will begin to test the impact of 802.11ac across their infrastructure and endpoints," Hardy says. "2015 will be the year of mass adoption, barring any specific high- performance needs that will spur some organizations to act much sooner."