802.11ac Wi-Fi Will Emerge Gradually – Aerohive

Matthew Gast_Aerohive

The new Wi-Fi will go faster – but it won’t get adopted straight away, says Aerohive’s Matthew Gast

The latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, will be adopted gradually, but favour distributed architectures that do not have central controllers, according to Wi-Fi network vendor Aerohive.

The new standard is advertised as enabling “Gigabit” throughput over Wi-Fi, and unlike earlier throughput promises, this one is not too far from the truth, says the company’s product manager, Matthew Gast. It allows wider radio channels (160MHz rather than 40MHz), and more parallel spatial streams (eight instead of four) between the sender and receiver.

AP370-Hero-View- aerohive

Don’t get boxed in

“802.11ac won’t revolutionise the way we build networks, but any time you do 25 percent better than you did yesterday, that’s a gain that is worth talking about,” says Gast.

The new wave of Wi-Fi will emerge slowly, says the network expert, quoting figures from Infonetics Research that suggest the new protocol will be supported by only ten percent of access points in 2014. “The trend will accelerate after that,” he says, “thanks to ‘multi-user MIMO’, where different users get to own one of the spatial streams.” This effectively turns the Wi-Fi access point from a hub (where the connection is shared) to a switch (where everyone gets their own channel).

Aerohive’s Wi-Fi systems have no central controller, and Gast thinks this distributed architecture will handle the faster Wi-Fi speeds better. In the past, central controllers resulted in a bottleneck, but controller-based Wi-Fi networks such as those from Aruba and Cisco have been evolving, so they don’t pass all packets through the central device.

Still, the increase in intelligence of access points seems to be moving things Aerohive’s way. “Years ago, first Wi-Fi controllers had a lot of power, but now access points have processing power,” says Gast. For instance, data-centric security schemes rely on deep-packet inspection to find malware, or block websites according to policy – and access points now have enough muscle to do this.

Don’t call it 5G

One thing that ‘s gone is the thought of branding this version of Wi-Fi as “5G” – a bizarre idea that Gast was keen on last time we met him. Although when counting Wi-Fi generations carefully, we find that 802.11ac is the fifth major version of the standard, in practice it  would have caused consumer confusion, by implying that this Wi-Fi version was part of the sequence of cellular networks, following on from 3G and 4G.

Now, it seems that “5G Wi-Fi” has been quietly dropped – but not because it was a bad idea. Sources have told TechWeekEurope that the branding was spiked in a hurry when it turned out that “5G Wi-Fi” was a trademark of chip-maker Broadcom – but Gast won’t confirm this.

Aerohive’s AP370 and AP390 access points feature 802.11ac, available for about a 20 percent premium over the previous models, because enterprise APs need a bit more than just adding the new protocol, he says. The full 802.11ac spec uses 16.5W – more power than the 15W  that the 802.3af (power over Ethernet) standard can deliver. So the APs will back off on certain features according to usage, cutting down 80MHz channels to 40MHz, before cutting off any spatial streams.

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