What’s This 802.11ac I Keep Hearing About?

close up of a person cupping their hand around the back of their ear

Sep 2, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Today’s guest blog is by Greg Kamer, pre-sales systems engineer for wireless equipment manufacturer Ruckus Wireless. 

Simply put, it’s the newest Wi-Fi standard to hit the streets. Compared to 11n, it has bigger channels, is faster (1+ Gbps), and better. Or is it?

Most would argue that 802.11ac is merely an evolution over 802.11n, and I agree. However, it is a good step for Wi-Fi progress.

Remember the term MIMO? Multiple input, multiple output? It came to us with 11n and provided for markedly better performance and scale compared to previous generations (11a/b/g). The 11n standard allowed for four spatial streams, but in practice we’ve seen only three implemented in real products. With 802.11ac, the standard expands on the MIMO concept, allowing up to eight streams; but only the future will tell as to how many will be crammed into hardware you can touch, see, and buy. Current 11ac products still max out at 3 spatial streams, just like 11n.

The 802.11ac standard also brings wider channels – 80 and 160 MHz, compared to 11a/g’s 20 MHz and 11n’s 40 MHz. What this means is more bandwidth, which equals better maximum throughput, but at the expense of fewer channels (which may actually decrease total throughput for your network if it increases “self-interference.” With the 160 MHz channel option, there’s effectively just one usable channel in the 5GHz band, which isn’t a great situation. The 11ac standard also utilizes 256 QAM (its okay if you don’t know what that means), which is a more efficient way of passing data over the air. And last, but not least, 11ac supports ONLY the 5GHz band.

So what does this mean for you? The answer: it depends. If you’re looking into a wireless upgrade or expansion, 802.11ac should be at the top of your list. Right now, 802.11ac APs still have a slight price premium, but the second half of 2014 will bring it on par with 11n. With the performance boost from ac, capacity and end-user happiness will both improve. At the end of the day, this will all depend on your wants and needs…and budget. But take note that 11ac is wrapped in a lot of hype and general misunderstanding. You work with a great partner that wants to help! Feel free to ask!

Give us a call at 502-240-0404 or email us to find out more about Ruckus Wireless’s new 802.11ac APs!

The content in this blog post is the author’s and may not reflect the views of his employer.

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