802.11ac has been all the buzz in wireless network solution discussions of late, but is it actually worth your time? There are some good reasons the answer could be a big fat “no” for you and your company. For now, at least. Below are some reasons why you should not jump into the market for a new 802.11ac network.
1. No apps that need it.
Software drives data usage needs, not your friendly Cisco wireless network solution sales person. Sorry Cisco. And frankly, there aren’t that many software applications that actually need 802.11ac to function well. 802.11ac proponents will tell you about video streaming, multimedia, or other unnamed “data-heavy” applications. For the first two, how many businesses actually need their employees able to stream movies while at work? For more business oriented wireless uses that would fit in that “other” category, like data integration, for example, it’s probably a good idea to stick with a wired connection if you can. Would you really want to rely on Wi-Fi for business critical apps and processes to work?
So, if your business doesn’t have apps that need to transfer large quantities of data via Wi-Fi, and you don’t see that changing soon, best to hold your fire on upgrading to 802.11ac.
2. No devices (that matter) that can take it.
Sure there are plenty of android devices out there that have already jumped on the 802.11ac bandwagon, but let’s be real. Only when Apple finally jumps onto that wagon too will it start to make sense to investigate 802.11ac solutions. The Android ecosystem is too fragmented to give the sort of unified push that Apple is capable of giving to business technology environments. It should also be telling you something that Apple hasn’t decided to incorporate 802.11ac into its iPhones and iPads yet, although the tech giant does say that plans are under way to do just that. Apple is a smart company, as measured by their profits. If you want to be smart too, you should jump when, or even after Apple jumps.
3. Range isn’t even better than your existing N solution.
Hoping to get more Wi-Fi at longer distances? Well, you’re out of luck with 802.11ac. In fact, the new standard has even less theoretical range than N does because AC utilizes a higher frequency in order to get a data transmission boost.
4. 802.11ac is not cost effective.
802.11ac systems often (though not always) come at a mark up compared to good ole’ N. I’ve seen some say there’s a 20% hike in costs compared to N. Do you really want to pay 20% for something that is not going to give you a 20% boost in productivity, or might even decrease productivity if all your employees/coworkers are streaming movies on the job?
5. But what about future-proofing?
While this can be a key part of any 802.11ac wireless network sales pitch, don’t buy it. Many 802.11ac devices that are and will come onto the market are and will be in fact “past-proofed.” In other words, even though they were designed to take AC, they will still be able to take an N signal as well. According to a Cisco whitepaper on 802.11ac, “An 802.11ac device must support all the mandatory modes of 802.11a and 802.11n.” So until device makers, wireless network solutions providers and the IEEE decide to get together and screw you over by making and certifying devices that only take an 802.11ac signal, you’re good to go on the device front with N.
Future app needs are harder to discern, to be fair, and advocates of “future-proofing” for higher data needs have a better argument here. However, there are still good reasons to wait before you invest in an enterprise scale (and cost) wireless network solution. First, there are no critical business apps on the horizon that I’m aware of that actually need wireless AC to work. And when they do come out, as I’m sure they will at some point, it will be time for you to upgrade your wireless network to 802.12ac Wave Two anyways. Save yourself the expense and headaches by just doing the upgrade then, rather than an upgrade now for Wave One and an upgrade soon after for Wave Two.
To conclude, don’t get suckered into the 802.11ac hype. Most organizations won’t need it, and the standard might even have some drawbacks compared to N in areas like range.
Be smart. Be like Apple. Hold onto N until there’s a real business case for going AC.