A simple guide to Wireless 11ac Wave 2 upgrades

A simple guide to Wireless 11ac Wave 2 upgrades

Wireless image

We’ve known Wireless 11ac Wave 2 has been on the horizon for a couple of years now. There is enormous potential benefit in implementing this new super-fast wireless in schools and colleges, not least due to the increasing popularity of BYOD. It will become much easier to cope with the new and increasing demands on your infrastructure when you have a solid, reliable and fast wireless system like Wave 2 underpinning your network.

A quick Google search will find loads of extremely complicated tech briefs about 802.11ac Waves 1 and 2, so there’s no need to delve into the detail here. Obviously we cannot ignore the technical aspect of it completely, so as a very basic introduction, 802.11ac Wave 2 is a wireless standard that allows wireless devices to run extremely quickly; many times faster than older standards and twice as fast as Wave 1.

Last month, the first commercially available Wave 2 Access Point was released by Ruckus, swiftly followed by Aruba. HP’s Wave 2 offering coming soon is a very exciting solution, which incorporated into their SmartRate switching will allow 1, 2.5, 5 and 10GB switch ports with PoE+. (This is especially important as there are vendors who are encouraging customers to provide dual cables to ac Access Points, which won’t be needed with HP SmartRate switches – perhaps a subject for another blog…)

Other vendors will be releasing their Wave 2 offering soon so implementing Wave 2 is now a real possibility for your wireless project.

Sounds great – so why not just go ahead and install?

Well…it’s not quite that simple. Depending on your existing situation Wave 2 may not be worth your investment right now – here are some factors to consider.

Firstly, think about the devices that will be using the wireless network. If you are starting from scratch in a new build school with all new equipment and devices, then it is probably worth opting for a Wave 2 network. Equally, if you plan to replace existing devices in the future to new models that will support Wave 2 (although at the time of writing none are currently available), then go for the upgrade too. But what if you have an existing site full of devices you’ve had for a few years, and you have no plans to upgrade any time soon? It is extremely unlikely that they support Wave 1 or 2 and they will almost certainly be predominantly N devices. If you only have N standard laptops you won’t make them go any faster by going to a Wave 1 or 2 system. To use an analogy, you can take your pushbike onto the M1 but just because you’re allowed to go 70mph it doesn’t mean you’re pedalling that fast. Until you have upgraded devices, it won’t be worth the cost or effort of implementing Wave 2.

Next, don’t even think about upgrading your wireless system unless your switching infrastructure is capable of supporting it. Often the cart can come before the horse, and an enterprise wireless system is running disastrously because the switching infrastructure it is running on is too old and slow.

Finally, when you’re ready to upgrade take time to find a good installer. Wireless is wireless (although most providers would never say it), so the key to a successful upgrade is finding an installer you have confidence in. Multi-channel, single channel, B, G, N, dual radio, triple radio etc; there’s lots to consider so try to find a company who has experience of successfully installing similar systems elsewhere.

Now you’re up to speed on Wave 2, there is of course another standard on the horizon to confuse things further – WiGig – which will provide multi-GB capability to wireless devices. Unfortunately the same argument remains – which wave do you choose to ride?

Whichever route you take, if you do not have a functional enterprise wireless system now is the time to consider your strategy. The benefits for your institution are undeniable – whether you do it now or have a longer-term plan. Teachers that can depend on a super-fast connection will have confidence in developing creative and engaging ways to use technology in their lessons, ultimately leading to more effective learning for students and more success for your institution.

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