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The IEEE 802.11ac hardware has been on the market about a year now, and is remarkably faster than the 802.11n standard gear it’s overtaking. Steadfast Solutions can help you establish 802.11ac business WiFi solutions to help optimize your wireless networking, using the best AC router available

As with most technologies, the wireless LAN space continues to rapidly evolve. The current IEEE wireless networking standard is 802.11 ac, which offers considerable advantages over its predecessor, 802.11n.

Within the last few years, enterprise products have offered rates up to 5,200 Mbps (Dual Radio) at the physical interfaces (although real-world tests may end up being about 60 to 70 percent of this), up to 160MHz channels, and 4×4 Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) with support for up to 4 spatial streams.

There are a number of things that have progressed in the wireless landscape over the three to four years or so since more 802.11ac standard enterprise devices came to market. Most of the features available in the new 802.11ac business WiFi router are now in production. The question now is what to look for in 802.11ac enterprise gear and what comes next.

802.11ac Wave 2 is currently in production by all of the major wireless vendors and most offer support for similar speeds, modulation and streams used. Most of the WiFi gear vendors have already implemented the following features into their products, but keep an eye out for how the various products differ in their support for the different features including:

  • Beamforming (typically transmit)
  • Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Out (MU-MIMO), introduced with Wave 2
  • Multi-gigabit backhaul
  • Wireless intrusion protection
  • Antenna options

Another very important thing to look for that differentiates each vendor’s individual product lines is their support for spectrum analysis, noise reduction and channel management.

802.11ac vs 802.11n Speed

You may have noticed it has been 6 years between 802.11n and 802.11ac. This is an eternity in technology terms and the big benefit 802.11ac brings from its time in development is speed.

WiFi is always promoted using ‘theoretical’ speeds and by this standard 802.11ac is capable of 1300 megabits per second (Mbps) which is the equivalent of 162.5 megabytes per second (MBps). This is three times faster than the typical 450Mbps speed attributed to 802.11n.

The problem is, these speeds aren’t very feasible. In the real world, no-one ever gets close to theoretical speeds and the fastest 802.11 ac real world speeds recorded in testing are around 720Mbps (90MBps). By contrast, 802.11n tops out at about 240Mbps (30MBps), so that estimate of 300% greater speed is still true, just much lower.

Antennas

But there is one more crucial part to understand for your real-world experience: antennas.

Long-term 802.11 ac has the headroom to support up to eight antennas each running at over 400Mbps each, but the fastest and best AC router to date only has four antennas. The reason is that antennas add cost and take up space and the smaller the device the less antennas they can fit so it becomes pointless adding more to a router.

The device-to-antenna rundown:

  • Smartphones: 1 antenna
  • USB Adaptors: 1 or 2 antennas
  • Tablets: 2 antennas
  • Laptops: 2 antennas (occasionally 3 on desktop replacements)
  • Desktops: 3 or 4 antennas (PCI Express EXPR -1.93% cards)

But, there’s another bottleneck here. If your glorious four-antenna 802.11ac router is connecting to your single antenna 802.11ac smartphone, then 400Mbps (50Mbps) is your theoretical maximum and 200Mbps (25MBps) is the more realistic one.

This is something of a downer, but these speeds are still faster than nearly all home broadband connections and only become a limitation for transferring files wirelessly between devices on your local network (say laptop to laptop or desktop to NAS).

Furthermore, 802.11n only supports up to four antennas at roughly 100Mbps (12.5MBps) each so when you do the maths for devices using 802.11n antennas the gap begins to widen. Especially when it comes to the next big benefit of 802.11ac business WiFi solutions like those Steadfast Solutions can provide.

802.11ac vs 802.11n Range

So, AC WiFi is much faster, but its peak speeds are not really the selling point – its speeds at long range are.

First the bad news: 802.11 ac business WiFi solutions don’t really reach any further than 802.11n WiFi. In fact, 802.11 ac uses the 5GHz band while 802.11n uses 5GHz and 2.4GHz. Higher bands are faster but lower bands travel further.

Certain testing on both standards finds very little difference in signal strength between 802.11ac over 5GHz and 802.11n over 5GHz and 2.4GHz.

Why? Firstly, because 2.4GHz is used for everything from cordless home phones to microwaves and 5GHz remains relatively interference free for a cleaner signal.

The second key factor is ‘Beamforming’. Typically, a wireless signal is simply thrown out from your router equally in all directions, like ripples when throwing a stone into a pond. This is why you should place your router as close to the centre of your home or office and as high up as possible.

Beamforming is different. It is built into the 802.11 ac specification and is ‘smart signal’ which detects where connected devices are and increases signal strength specifically in their direction. Yes, it’s still a good idea to position your router centrally, but it helps make it less vital.

All this means the performance of 802.11 ac is maintained far better at long range than 802.11n. Peak performance may be tripled, but at range 5-10x the speed benefits are not unusual and this is where 802.11 ac comes into its own.

Some numbers for example:

  • 802.11 ac at one metre: 90MBps, 10 metres: 70MBps and at 20 metres behind two solid walls: 50MBps
  • 802.11n at one metre: 30MBps, 10 metres: 20MBps and at 20 metres behind two solid walls: 5-10MBps

Of course, these figures are a general guide and I’ll get into examples of more specific top 802.11ac devices to buy next.

802.11ac vs. 802.11n Availability and Price

Some years back, 802.11ac WiFi equipment was hard to find and extremely expensive. Now it’s built into every premium smartphone, tablet, laptop and smart TV and is increasingly found in midrange devices as well.

The reason for this is threefold. Firstly, there are obvious performance benefits, particularly for single antenna devices like smartphones. Secondly, it is more battery efficient because WiFi needs to be active for less time when data transfers can complete more quickly. Additionally, with proliferation comes scales of the economy which bring down the price.

Important note: make sure you find officially certified devices (using the official WiFi logo). Some devices still use ‘Draft’ 802.11ac and while they tend to work fine and should eventually update, it isn’t guaranteed.

When it comes to pricing, most devices you buy have already integrated 802.11 ac so you won’t be consciously paying more for it.

Where there is still a jump in price, however, is routers. Wireless AC routers still tend to have a 20-50% premium (depending on model), but as aging routers risk becoming the speed and range bottleneck for every Internet-connected item in your home these much-neglected devices are worth a little more investment.

[Source credit: Forbes.com, Tom’s IT Pro]

You don’t want to go without the aid of expert Melbourne IT services working hard to keep your wireless networking optimized and up-to-date. With Steadfast Solutions in your corner, you get the IT solutions Melbourne companies rely on, such as acquiring the best AC router for your business WiFi solutions, all within an inclusive, consistent service platform.

Get 802.11ac Business WiFi Solutions for Complete Wireless Networking Optimization 

Call Steadfast Solutions at (National) 1300 659 508, IDD: +61 3 9785 4444, or email us at hello@steadfastsolutions.com.au for more details on how to get started with 802.11ac business WiFi solutions that help optimize your wireless networking right away!

Published on 8th February 2018 by Ian Brady.

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