The second wave of 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology, primarily distinguished by new MIMO capabilities, bigger channels and the general ability to handle larger and denser groups of connections, is starting to make its way into enterprises.
MU-MIMO is the piece that’s got everyone excited for wave 2 – it stands for multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output, meaning that access points use larger numbers of antennae that can be managed algorithmically to provide a more flexible distribution of wireless resources. In essence, these are smarter access points that are better able to handle large numbers of users at any given time, and feature more advanced ways to manage different kinds of wireless links.
There still aren’t a lot of endpoints out there that use wave 2 – most laptops and smartphones, even near the top of the market, still ship with first-wave 802.11ac technology – but some businesses are opting to catch the second wave in the interest of future-proofing, addressing densification and more. Wave 2 endpoints aren’t needed to take advantage of some of the advantages provided by MU-MIMO.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD:Study shows 802.11ac wave 2 APs gaining sales ground+
Dr. John Layke, DO, is a plastic surgeon and a partner in the Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Group, which also sells Layke and partner Dr. Payman Danielpour’s line of Beverly Hills MD cosmetics. In their small southern California office, their group uses four 802.11ac wave 2 access points from Linksys for both Wi-Fi connectivity and a couple of specialized services.
The practice uses a 3D imaging system to scan detailed pictures of all its patients, and an advanced Wi-Fi system is important for moving those files around the office to various places at top speed – wave 2 is capable of nearly 7Gbps of theoretical throughput, though, obviously, practical speeds will be much lower.
“Once [the 3D pictures] are uploaded, we can discuss and alter the image and even display it on the computers back in the operating room to ensure that we’re giving them the result that we discussed,” Layke told Network World.
It’s a change from the group’s previous wireless infrastructure, which couldn’t even stream music from the front desk into a spa area, according to Layke.
“The ability now is far superior to what we had,” he said.
Learning to wave 2
The St. Vrain Valley School District serves nine high schools, nine middle schools and 23 elementary schools just north of Boulder, Colo., mostly in the suburb of Longmont. That’s about 32,000 students, each of whom has their own iPad issued by the school, to say nothing of the individual devices they bring in.
“We saw our sites needing that density with the ac 2 and going to 5GHz only, just because of our client density and our iPads,” said district CTO Joe McBreen. The transition to 5GHz – which does not propagate as far as 2.4GHz – means that it’s easier for access points to avoid interfering with each other, opening up more channels for potential use.
The district landed on Cisco gear, after a competitive bidding process, replacing older Ruckus equipment in St. Vrain’s 41 schools. They’re up to 360 wave 2 access points currently, a number that will grow to 2,000 or so by the time the project is complete.
Aside from some early software hiccups that Cisco fixed, the transition has been going really well, according to McBreen and network engineer Greg Martien.
“We have some challenges right now – we use Bonjour and AirPlay, just like every other user out there using those types of services with Apple, trying to departmentalize that by site, but other than that, it’s working,” Martien said.
St. Vrain is also a Google Apps for Education customer, and sees a lot of students and staff using video Hangouts, which can be a bandwidth hog. In the future, multiplayer VR simulations and further growth in video-based lessons could continue to raise throughput demands.
The combination of improved throughput and a stronger ability to handle the aforementioned densification of client devices have meant that the upgrade has been worth the money for St. Vrain.
“We’re really pleased with the functionality of it,” McBreen said. “It’s working as advertised – as a matter of fact, some people in another department have codenamed it HOF wireless, for ‘Hair On Fire.’”
Wave 2 goes nuclear
It’s not your average Wi-Fi use case by any stretch of the imagination, so the news that the European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN – has been a bit of an early adopter where new wireless technology is concerned isn’t actually that surprising. CERN has users who need to deliver giant chunks of information to things like physics datasets, which places big demands on the institution’s network.
Tony Cass is the group leader for communications systems at CERN, and he said that the access points and densification considerations themselves aren’t the main reason that CERN has begun with a trial deployment of wave 2 technology.
“It’s the controllers and the features they have that allow us to set up dedicated SSIDs and sub-networks and so on,” he said, citing new capabilities that equipment vendors can build into wave 2 controllers. CERN uses Aruba equipment for its wave 2 experiments, but Cass warns that there are parts of the group’s infrastructure that won’t go wave 2 – or even wireless – in the near future.
“We have a very high number of users, but on the other hand, we’re talking about coverage on … something that’s equivalent to a university campus,” he said. “We probably imagine that the very demanding requirements that we have, they will stay on wired connections.”
According to Cass, there’s even been a little institutional resistance where making the CERN campus as wireless as possible is concerned, particularly in non-mission-critical settings. But that’s changing, as well.
“We’re trying to convince people that they don’t need to worry about structured cabling, that Wi-Fi will deliver, for most office purposes, more than adequate bandwidth,” Cass said.