Wi-Fi Gets Faster!

We take a look at the development of the 802.xx standards for wireless connectivity and where we are today with speeds and standards. It’s not altogether a dry look at the data but rather an examination of how applications are enabled by faster, wider coverage of Wi-Fi.

Most of us use Wi-Fi these days as most of us at least have a smartphone and an increasing number use tablets. Leaving aside the cost of 4G data usage, which by and large is still mostly to be determined by carriers, Wi-Fi will need to compete head to head with the mobile offerings.

With wireless infrastructure commonplace within the office, home and public environments, access to a wireless network is now an expectation of every network user.

John Bird, Head of Systems and Support Services at Exertis Micro-P, comments, “With features ranging from guest access, seamless roaming and the ease of integration with existing infrastructure, network managers are turning to managed wireless networks to reduce time associated with managing legacy hardware. End users requirements continue to change. Field based workforces need to be joined up with their office based colleagues and the ability to deliver applications to the mobile handset allow the end user to benefit from a clearly defined ROI.

It’s also not just about routing voice over the WLAN – the wireless AC standard will finally make a lot of new applications viable. The single-link and multi-station enhancements supported by 802.11ac enable several new WLAN usage scenarios, such as simultaneous streaming of HD video to multiple clients throughout the home/ office, rapid backup of large data files, wireless display, large campus/auditorium deployments, and manufacturing floor automation. Resellers will find our expertise in this arena is second to none.”

Bird adds, “As the capabilities, reliability, performance and data throughput of wireless technology increases, Exertis Micro-P can provide technical presales support to deliver bespoke solutions and the very best service to our customers. We have a team of consultants available to assist or carry out an entire Wireless site survey and can offer an AP Site location and planning service to a complete RF Site survey able to identify areas or frequencies that suffer from interference or signal loss. As part of our portfolio, we have a comprehensive selection of Wireless solutions that range from hybrid managed to enterprise grade WLAN, suitable for small to large scale deployment across Public Sector or large space environments.”

Network security must not be overlooked, especially with the abundance of devices on the market that support the wireless protocol and the growing army of BYOD users with smartphones connecting to public and corporate networks.

Exertis Micro-P for example works closely with key vendors such as Dell, D-Link, Netgear, Zyxel, Mcafee and Forescout to highlight network security issues to their channel. As part of a Unified Communications solution, the ability to distribute real time voice over the wireless network is a necessity.

These solutions are not limited to simple PC based softphone solutions but include dedicated Wi-Fi SIP handsets and GSM mobile phones with SIP and FMC clients.

Bird concludes, “As the front office WLAN infrastructure develops, consideration should be given for correctly supporting the back office hardware that supports the infrastructure. Ensuring there is sufficient power, cooling and rack space to accommodate new equipment is a consideration often left until last. Exertis Micro-P can assist our reseller partners through our Site Survey service covering Power, Cooling, Mechanical and Electrical works. We will prepare a comprehensive quotation that details statement of works, signed off by the site owner, along with equipment required, warranty / maintenance services as well as recommendations on how to best setup the power and cooling systems to maximise efficiency.

The ability to packetise speech and transport this over the customer’s wired and wireless infrastructure has revolutionised the communications marketplace. Hardwired IP phones are now standard in a resellers portfolio but equally so are other wireless devices such as tablet PC’s and mobile handsets. The use of a tablet or large screen smartphone, is ideal for call centre managers to monitor staff performance whilst remaining mobile on the sales floor. We should not overlook the Gartner report that predicts 80% of corporate Wi-Fi networks will need upgrading by 2015 to support BYOD and companies deploying tablets will need 300% more Wi-Fi capacity to be effective. The time to act is now.”





Vendor Speak

Salah Nassar, Senior Manager for Enterprise Product Marketing at Ruckus Wireless notes that there has been a lot of talk in the industry surrounding the latest improvements made to the 802.11 Wi-Fi protocol that promises to boost speeds into the gigabit realm.

“802.11n drastically improved capacity and reliability, which enabled the use of a number of new Wi-Fi applications that were previously too important for unpredictable wireless connections such as VoIP. With most business applications migrating to the cloud and client devices with no Ethernet option, 802.11ac will continue to drive that trend, while also driving the growing preference for wireless over wired connections.

Building on the existing functionality from 802.11n, 11ac is a 5 GHz only technology standard. The major data rate gains of 802.11ac come from a combination of simple protocol extensions, like wider channels, more spatial streams, more efficient modulation and other enhancements like multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). Through these advancements, the new protocol boasts maximum data rates near 7 Gbps.

It’s a big leap forward in Wi-Fi performance and one that can continue to support industry trends, such as BYOD, and the transition to new enterprise mobile applications, such as video conferencing and VoIP communications. As businesses become increasingly more mobile, 802.11ac will be the protocol that enables users to be better connected and receive greater speeds.”

Like most new Wi-Fi technologies, 802.11ac is coming to market in phases.

Phase 1

  • First-generation 802.11ac access points (APs) now on the market are focused on improving Wi-Fi speeds with features that benefit small networks, with one or fewer APs.
  • These APs provide 80 MHz channels, which will work well in homes or small offices, for example, but in multi-AP installations, wide channels waste spectrum, increase interference, and decrease overall network capacity.
  • Better modulation (256-QAM) is helpful, but limited to very short-range connections. In comparison with today’s 802.11n products, the net gain is minimal.

Phase 2

  • Phase two of 802.11ac is where we’ll begin to see real differentiation with 802.11n. These upcoming second-generation 802.11ac APs will have much more to offer businesses facing capacity strain from mobile devices.
  • Though extra wide channels still lack value in businesses, MU-MIMO will boost overall wireless capacity in mobile-heavy networks by as much as two times.
  • MU-MIMO allows an access point to ‘talk’ to up to four devices, simultaneously, whereas APs of previous standards, operating on just one stream, could only ever talk to one device at any one time. This is perhaps the key innovation in the new protocol, enabling higher sustained data rates, and increased client capacities can be achieved because users can get on and off the Wi-Fi network faster and with less packet loss.

However, Salah Nassar at Ruckus Wireless cautions, “In order to take advantage of these gains, which will further improve the user experience and enable new applications, it’s essential to have greater control over signal paths within the RF spectrum. This proved to be the case as the industry moved from 802.11g to 802.11n and will again prove to be true as companies migrate to 802.11ac. Intelligent control of RF through adaptive or smart antennas will simply add unmatched value to any 802.11ac deployment, as without explicit RF controls, 802.11ac performance will be severely limited.”

Distie Comment: 

Alexis Argent, founder and director of distributor 4Gon Solutions says his company has seen huge demand for wireless products and this has increased dramatically over the past five years.

“With the much improved performance and reliability of access points and routers, in many cases, businesses have been able to remove the need for a wired connection at all.

The development of Wi-Fi solutions over the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of data that can be transferred across a wireless network. The fact that this has been achievable is, in part, due to the development of 802.11a, b, g, n and ac wireless standards.

The first widely accepted standards, 802.11a and b, saw a vast increase in throughput, and are still widely supported by most products on the market. This was also true of the later g and n iterations.

Now, with the emergence of 802.11ac, we have seen an increase in demand for products like the Ubiquiti Unifi AC as this enables three times the speed of earlier protocols. Top tech brands such as Apple are also moving towards ac standards with products such as the AirPort Extreme 802.11ac. Apple is also informing its customers that all new iPhones and iPads will use the ac protocol.

With regard to the future of wireless connectivity, we’re going to see continually faster data transfer, a wider range of channels and more multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) streams. The ac standard also provides backward compatibility, meaning wireless can and will be integrated into any existing network.”

In terms of how they work, 802.11 ac and 4G are totally different, 4G functions via a cellular network and ac over a wired or radio connection. However 4G offers an excellent mobile alternative, with similar speeds, if you don’t have access to a wired or radio connection.”

The bottom line is that improved Wi-Fi protocols allow businesses the opportunity to do more and to do it faster.

Where a wired connection is problematic or impossible the ac protocol really allows more applications to run simultaneously, or allows high-bandwidth applications to perform without a hitch. Faster speeds greatly reduce time spent transferring files or backing up data and therefore allow for higher levels of productivity, even whilst on the move.”

Historically, connections may have struggled with concurrent users all downloading files. Improved Wi-Fi standards mean multi-media platforms such as conference calls or webinars perform more consistently. It also means businesses and their staff can use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets more effectively.

It’s not just businesses either, many types of organisation have benefited from the development of 802.xx and faster Wi-Fi.

According to Alexis Argent Educational institutions for example can offer distance learning by allowing students to use their own devices and watch and participate remotely.

“Students are also able to access their files and projects on their own devices around the campus, rather than having to use one of a Universities’ fixed workstations.

All cloud-based products also benefit from improving internet protocols as they become significantly more efficient to use via wireless devices. As smartphone and tablet usage continues to increase, users are demanding more bandwidth intensive applications such as HD and live video streaming.”

Hotspot 2.0

Also known as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, Hotspot 2.0 is a new approach to public access Wi-Fi by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The idea is for mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi subscriber service whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0 area. The intention is to provide better bandwidth and services-on-demand to end-users, whilst also alleviating mobile carrier infrastructure of traffic overheads.

Hotspot 2.0 is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard, which is a new set of protocols to enable cellular-like roaming. If the device supports 802.11u and is subscribed to a Hotspot 2.0 service it will automatically connect and roam. Supported handsets include Some Samsung Galaxy smartphones and iOS 7 devices.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine