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802.11ac Wireless Access Point Wave 2 Improvements Explained

by John Ciarlone on May 14, 2015
802.11ac wave 2
luckey_sun / Source / CC BY-SA

If you have a WiFi focused network and are starting to feel the data pinch as too many users are fighting over too little bandwidth, it may be time to start thinking about an 802.11ac access point.  It's the current state-of-the-art in consumer and business WiFi, and it's set to get better and better (We hope.) 

802.11ac Wave 2 access points have arrived and promise substantial improvements over the already impressive Wave 1 access points.  So, we wanted to take a moment to discuss what a 802.11ac wireless access point can bring you today, versus what Wave 2 will bring in a few months.  

meraki mr42802.11ac Wave 1 vs Wave 2: New High-Speed Choices In WiFi


Wave 1 has been around for about two years now, and represented a new high in consumer-affordable Gigabit WiFi, with maximum speeds up to 1.3Gbps.  However, beyond the sheer speed increase, the 802.11ac speed offers several major benefits over the previous 802.11n and earlier standards:

  • Longer battery life, thanks to much more efficient and roaming-friendly airtime utilization, battery life is 2x that of 802.11n.

  • Higher client density, supporting more users and more devices simultaneously without slowdown.

  • Much more bandwidth, with 802.11ac speed the first major WiFi system to go past 1Gbps, nearly three times as fast as 802.11n.

  • Dual antenna setups utilize both the 2.4ghz and 5ghz broadcast ranges, reducing competition for frequencies among wireless devices.

  • Fast OEM adoption, meaning your workforce probably has a compatible device in their pocket already.

Plus, of course, as is standard in WiFi, 802.11ac remains backwards-compatible with all previous standards, so it can be used alongside older equipment. 

802.11ac Wave 1 is hitting a sweet spot where it's been widely-adopted and is relatively inexpensive, so there's a lot of good reason to go ahead and upgrade your wireless access points now.  The improvements over past standards are truly substantial, and can do a lot to boost efficiency in a data-oriented business.

But...

802.11ac wireless access point
@jbtaylor / Source / CC BY

802.11ac Wave 2 Is Coming

On the other hand, there's Wave 2, which is coming... soon.  Some manufacturers have already started trying to support it based on best-guesses, but officially, it's still not quite finalized.  But expectations are still high it will debut in 2015.

Wave 2 wireless access points will be a next-generation hardware set running off a slightly modified version of the "ac" standard.  It will not be a software-only upgrade, and will require new purchases.

The main upgrade will be sheer speed.  Wave 1 utilizes up to three internal antennas.  Wave 2 will start at eight antennas, and will bring speeds of nearly 7Gbps.  It's also (last we heard) being left flexible, so that more antennas can be added to the 802.11ac standard without major software upgrades, so even higher speeds may be possible in 2016-17.

Likewise, with that massive amount of bandwidth, it'll be able to handle even the most device-crazy college or office environment.

802.11ac Upgrade Now Or Upgrade Later?

At this point, Wave 2 is still somewhat vaporware.  There's always a fear in making these sorts of upgrades about seeing the next great thing literally come out two months later, but that really happens all the time in computer hardware.

If you're already having problems from slow speeds, 802.11ac WiFi is here and it's a huge improvement over older standards.  It's becoming the defacto Wi-Fi for offices that want to power today's data-hungry mobile devices.

Plus, of course, there's no telling what Wave 2 will cost.  802.11ac speed at Gigabit Ethernet range is already quite affordable, thanks to its fast adoption.

So if you're thinking that it's time to give the network a new boost of speed that can kick everyone into high gear, Hummingbird Networks can give you a free consultation and recommendations at multiple price points. Just get in touch!

Deployment Guide for Wi-Fi Networks

Topics: Wireless Access Points

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