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IEEE 802.11ac - is now the right time to deploy?

By Kevin Secino, Mobility Product Marketing, HP Networking



IEEE 802.11ac Wave 1 or Wave 2, which Wave is right for you?


There have been quite a few papers that have been written by Networking experts that shared insightful information about this new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. A new wave of silicon that advances the WLAN experience to the next level…(please see Gartner “Enterprises should optimize the timing of IEEE 802.11ac adoption,” Gartner ID: G00255400, September 16, 2013 and Network World “802.11ac 'gigabit Wi-Fi' starts to show potential, limits” article where this industry is going is just amazing from where 802.11b started back in the late 90’s..

One of the bigger decisions that customers face today regarding this new standard is all around timing of deploying and of course your individual business circumstances… Weather your timing for a network re-fresh after 4-5 years or so is now outdated, and your trying to decide whether you can wait for Wave 2 of the 802.11ac standard, if your current 802.11n WLAN network is working just fine for you or deploy Wave 1 of the new GbE Wi-Fi standard today is the 1.3 GbE question of the day…


I thought I would share the “baseline” info of what the IEEE 802.11ac brings to the market… This new Wi-Fi industry standard enables multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1.3 Gb/s connect rate and supports additional MIMO spatial streams (up to eight), multi-user MIMO, wider RF bandwidth (up to 160 MHz), and high‑density modulation (up to 256 QAM). What this simply means for organizations is you get higher performance and the ability to communicate to multiple clients in the same coverage area at the same time. The new IEEE 802.11ac standard operates only in the less congested 5 GHz frequency band and enterprise clients that require 2.4 GHz for wireless connectivity will still need to

utilize IEEE 802.11n. SO for this reason, vendors are providing dual radio functionality that operates in the two bands (2.4GHz and 5Ghz) so that you’ll still be able to communicate with those 2.4GHz client devices…


Here are some of the key IEEE 802.11ac features:


  • MIMO spatial streams: IEEE 802.11ac supports up to eight spatial streams, with each spatial stream supporting up to 433 Mb/s on 80 MHz channels.
  • MU-MIMO1: This is suitable for organizations using medium-to-high density applications such as HD video, which consumes large amounts of bandwidth as well as personal digital assistants (PDAs) with single-stream radios. MU-MIMO allows the access point to transmit independent data streams to several wireless clients at once. The key benefit of deploying IEEE 802.11ac clients and access points is the ability of the technology to handle moderate to very high throughput. With multimedia being transmitted more and more each day, MU-MIMO will be a feature that should be considered prior to deploying Wave 1 of the IEEE 802.11ac standard. MU-MIMO works best when the clients are in different directions. For example, if three clients are all within a straight line of sight from the access point, then MU-MIMO benefits would not be optimized. This is because it is not possible for the access point to steer energy (signal) in the direction of a specific client.
  • Modulation: IEEE 802.11ac uses orthogonal-frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) to modulate bits for transmission. While the modulation method is the same as that used in IEEE 802.11n, IEEE 802.11ac optionally allows the use of 256 QAM. This increases the number of bits per sub-carrier from six to eight, resulting in up to a 33 percent increase in the physical data rate.
  • 5 GHz wireless spectrum: IEEE 802.11ac operates only in the less congested 5 GHz wireless spectrum versus the 2.4 GHz spectrum. By using the 5 GHz spectrum, IEEE 802.11ac becomes more suitable for applications sensitive to packet loss and delay and those requiring high performance and throughput, such as voice and video.
  • Beamforming: Tx beamforming can be used to increase throughput by improving the quality of the signal sent to wireless clients. When this option is enabled, access points use beamforming techniques to optimize the signal strength for each individual wireless client station. With the previous standards, such as IEEE 802.11n, access points could only transmit and receive omni-directional signals, which are susceptible to interference. But IEEE 802.11ac supports improved beamforming, providing directional signal reception and transmission.

HP Networking IEEE 802.11ac position, strategy, and offering 


The new IEEE 802.11ac standard is expected to be ratified very soon. Chip vendors will not have Wave 2 silicon available until late 2014 or early 2015; and Wave 2 products are not expected until mid 2015.


Gartner suggests that “to optimize wireless LAN price/performance, most clients can carefully time their deployment of IEEE 802.11ac technology, the wireless industry’s newest high-speed standard, which will be released in two waves of functionality between 2014 and 2016.”


We believe the Gartner report aligns well with the HP Networking positioning and strategic plans concerning IEEE 802.11ac. HP expects that IEEE 802.11n two- and three-stream products will be the technology of choice for the next twelve months and will continue to be the choice for many organizations for the next two to three years.


Limited client support today does inhibit, to a certain degree, organizations from taking full advantage of the enhanced throughput offered by IEEE 802.11ac. However, this situation can be remedied as HP Networking plans to:

  • Deliver a family of IEEE 802.11ac  Wave 1 access points and access devices starting in CY 2014
  • Ship a new IEEE 802.11ac wireless client bridge – Now Orderable! 

If you are an early adopter or are ready for your 4-5 year WLAN network refresh and have clients with IEEE 802.11ac chip sets, you may need to invest in wave 1 of the IEEE 802.11ac standard today. And you can look to HP for support. 


All the current and future controllers and unified wired-wireless controllers from HP are IEEE 802.11ac ready. As wave 2 of the standard supports MU-MIMO and will most likely support up to four spatial streams, each supporting up to 433 Mb/s, it is recommended for organizations in need of MU-MIMO’s increased use of channel efficiency. We expect IEEE 802.11ac client spatial stream configurations to experience a similar market roll out as seen with IEEE 802.11n—delivering single and dual spatial-stream clients that take advantage of the MU-MIMO technology.


It’s recommended that you carefully scope your business requirements prior to investing in the current wave 1 of the IEEE 802.11ac standard. Wave 2 of this standard will provide much higher performance and bandwidth capabilities, especially when transmitting the higher density MU‑MIMO functionality, which can drastically improve optimization of frequency channels.


The IEEE 802.11n standard today may provide you with enough throughput and bandwidth for your business, compared to wave 1 of the current IEEE 802.11ac implementation. Gartner suggests “clients should migrate to IEEE 802.11ac at their own pace, especially since most individual end users’ average connectivity needs will remain at 5 Mb/s through 2016.”


Here is a table that may help you in understanding the differences between Wave 1 and Wave 2 of the 802.11ac standard:


40 MHz Channels


IEEE 802.11n

IEEE 802.11ac Wave1

IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2

Multiple 802.11ac clients


200 Mb/s



80MHz Channels


IEEE 802.11n

IEEE 802.11ac Wave1

IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2

Multiple 802.11ac clients


433 Mb/s



160 MHz Channels


IEEE 802.11n

IEEE 802.11ac Wave1

IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2

Multiple 802.11ac clients





As a final point in this blog,  many client devices are still shipping with IEEE 802.11n radios. Its anticipated that sometime in mid/late 2014 or early 2015, IEEE 802.11ac clients are not expected to start penetrating the market in higher volumes. 


Read more about the IEEE 802.11ac and HP Networkings 802.11ac strategy  please see the whitepaper at:


>> For more information visit

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About the Author

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