December 4, 2012

What You Need to Know about 802.11AC

  • Demystifying the Business and Technical Implications of the Next Generation of WLAN Technology
  • Motorola Solutions

The appetite for wireless bandwidth is seemingly insatiable. Fifteen years ago, the first standard wireless LANs emerged at 1Mbps and 2Mbps to serve niche applications such as warehouse picking, inventory scanning and, in office buildings where mobility wasn't a requirement, cordless PC connections aimed at lowering cabling costs. Fast forward through several WLAN generations to today, and the story has completely changed.

Fifth-generation WLANs are now nearing standardization, and they are poised to run at 1Gbps speeds and beyond to serve any number of mission-critical applications across all industries. Instead of wireless connectivity being reserved for specialized applications or occasional connections in conference rooms, most knowledge workers today use the WLAN as their primary access network, and mobility has become a primary requirement. Employees typically tote a combination of smartphones, tablet computers and laptops supporting both Wi-Fi (802.11) and cellular network connections to access many of their corporate applications.

As a result, greater wireless throughput and denser networks of wireless access points (APs) are needed to satisfy burgeoning bandwidth demands. Today's 802.11n Wi-Fi version, offering 300Mbps to 450Mbps maximum theoretical speeds per radio, has matured. Enterprises have been steadily installing it since 2009. But even its generous capacity is already being tested in some organizations and soon will be in others, driving the IEEE to develop a 1Gbps WLAN standard, called "802.11ac: Enhancements for Very High Throughput for Operation in Bands Below 6 GHz."

The 802.11ac standard now specifies WLANs running exclusively in the 5GHz band, so it will be backward-compatible with 802.11n devices running at 5GHz. The standard is expected to be finalized next year.

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