802.11ac is the new wireless standard, and we've been getting a lot of questions about it lately.
The rush of new wireless hardware and standards has hit the point that it's increasingly hard for a company to even know which equipment to invest in, especially since we already know (roughly) what newer, faster techs will be coming in the next decade.
There are several clear ways that "ac" is superior to the previous 802.11n standard:
Gigabit throughput, theoretically up to 1.3Gbps per connection, which is enough to support high-definition (1080p) media streaming to multiple devices on a network without disrupting other functions like VoIP.
Real-world speeds roughly 2-3x as fast as 802.11n.
A somewhat increased signal range, compared to other 5ghz WiFi devices.
Backwards compatibility with previous standards.
Support for 8 MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) data streams, for faster and more fluid connections.
So, the short version is that if you installed an 802.11ac network today, you would be getting the fastest speeds currently in general circulation. For companies that legitimately have to deal with very large downloads and uploads, like in bio-research or media development, these extra speeds can be a huge boost to productivity.
They can also come in very useful if you're looking globally, and want to implement videoconferencing alongside your distributed data offerings. Videoconferencing is still quite bandwidth-heavy, especially for a connection smooth enough to qualify as "telepresence" in an office setting.
Now, whether such high speeds would help a business without an actual need for gigabit-level capacity is another question. Past a certain point, extra throughput will realistically only help your employees watch YouTube more efficiently.
There are also a few issues with this new standard which are causing some to adopt a "wait-and-see" attitude...
Reasons Why It Isn't For Every Business
802.11ac isn't a perfect format, and there are few issues to be aware of.
1 - Backwards compatibility is only one-way.
Your network is only as fast as your slowest component. If you want an ac gigabit network, that means everything on the back-end needs be upgraded to ac to see the advertised speeds.
802.11ac devices can still work alongside older standards, but they will be handicapped with lower data rates.
2 - It's using the increasingly-crowded 5ghz frequency range.
We've already seen this happen with 2.4ghz devices, especially cordless phones. There are now so manyof them in general use that it's degrading the entire spectrum with cross-channel interference. We occasionally even have to advise a client to upgrade their telephones to solve WiFi signal problems.
Well, the same thing is quickly happening in 5ghz now, and 802.11ac will necessarily only accelerate the process.
This is relevant because future WiFi standards, like .11ad and .11af, will move onto other frequencies, including bandwidth previously reserved for terrestrial television. This will greatly reduce interference problems... but not for a few more years.
3 - You're in for a cable drop.
This is an issue with 802.11ac that more people should be aware of: It's extremely hard to do a "rip and replace" of old equipment while keeping your existing wiring. In most configurations, your 802.11ac equipment will require two Ethernet cables, rather than one.
While occasionally avoidable, ac installations will probably require a significant new wiring installation around your facilities.
Is It Time?
There isn't a clear-cut answer here, and it largely depends on your business. Basically, if you have a true needfor gigabit-level WiFi speeds, 802.11ac can be a lifesaver for businesses looking to compete against larger global entities.
However, it's probably not worth the upgrade if you don't have an immediate need, as there are superior formats due to appear over the next five years or so.
Or for a detailed analysis of your usage and future needs, contact us for a free consultation!