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6 Buying Considerations for 802.11ac Access Points

6 Buying Considerations for 80211ac Access Points

6 Buying Considerations for 80211ac Access PointsSean Wilkins at Tom’s IT Pro has six great considerations for your consumption when it comes to buying 802.11ac Access Points. In addition to the considerations, Wilkins has helpfully included a quick comparison on price and a few features of some top vendors of 802.11ac access points. This should help you make sure your new wireless network solution at least meets some minimum standards.

So without further ado, here is the list of 6 considerations:

1. Support for 802.11ac Wave Two

Some major changes in technology and capability come with Wave 2, and you’re going to need a vendor who can help you through those changes that are inexorably drawing nearer. Some of those big changes coming down the line are identified by Wilkins:

The IEEE 802.11ac standard does support up to 8 spatial streams using 160 MHz channels; this will offer a considerable upgrade in speed even from the existing IEEE 802.11ac offerings. As of this writing, the best enterprise grade AP offering has support for up to 1.3 Gbps of physical line speed. The first evolution of Wave 2 is going to support 1.7 Gbps using 160 Mhz channels (this is currently supported on some bleeding edge products using the Quantenna chipset, just not in the enterprise space). But the full Wave 2 amendment supports a push from the previous maximum physical rate of 3.47 Gbps to 6.93 Gbps.

Another big addition with Wave 2 is the addition of support for multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), this will be a big upgrade in terms of the usability of wireless LAN networks. In current wireless LAN networks, only a single radio device is allowed to communicate on the network during any given time (like an Ethernet Hub); with MU-MIMO, multiple radio devices will be able to access the system at the same time (like an Ethernet Switch).

To sum up, MU-MIMO and radically increased speeds using 160 MHz-wide channels are coming with Wave 2. Make sure what you buy now has those near-future standards in mind.

2. Beamforming

By altering the gain and phase of the radio signal, as well as several other techniques that coordinate the multiple transmitters and receivers involved, Beamforming can prevent competing signals from canceling each other out when they reach the receiver. This should come standard in most 802.11ac APs, but as Wilkins wisely points out, vendor promises sometimes don’t match reality. His suggestion: “Make sure to take the time to test multiple vendors in the target environment to ensure the expected performance is achieved.”

3. Intrusion Protection

This means understanding what security features and add-ons are available through or compatible with your potential vendor. Given how important network security is to most organizations, this definitely needs to be a top-most consideration.

4. Spectrum Analysis/Noise Reduction

Most vendors have their own unique features, and thus their own unique strengths and weaknesses, when it comes to detecting and mitigating electromagnetic noise. Compare the different vendor capabilities in this area with the noise environment you face in the area of deployment. Testing, as with Beamforming, could prove beneficial.

5. Roaming Optimization

In many environments, end users expect to be able to walk from area to area and still have the best signal strength possible. While each vendor has its own solution to roaming users, once again, testing can make a world of difference according to Wilkins.

6. Antenna Options

Antennas come in different flavors. Make sure that nice-sounding vendor actually ha the “Mocha”-flavored antenna you need. Even better, find out if the prospective vendors’ APs can adapt different types of antennas to their product, giving you the flexibility you may need to cover your potentially complex environment.

As mentioned at the top, Wilkins also does a quick compare of some top 802.11ac wireless network solutions. He takes a look at AC APs from Cisco, Aruba, HP, and Ruckus, and includes some direct links to vendor sites as well as a price comparison. Rather than reproduce the whole chart here, here’s a link to the page that has it.

You can also check out our Buyers’ Guide for 802.11ac Wireless Network Solutions, which contains a few more options for your consideration as well as a market overview here.

Finally, I’ll end with some further words of wisdom from Wilkins that sums up a great way to approach the whole process of selecting an 802.11ac wireless network solution (or possibly any solution, for that matter):

As with any wireless gear shopping experience, the selection of the best solution is specific to the target environment and the requirements of the situation. If you’re considering the move to 802.11ac, take a look at all of the available device options and compile that with the requirements of the intended environment. Choose a few vendors that fill those requirements the best and test the access points in the environment to ensure their performance before purchasing.

In other words, determine what your environment actually needs, see if the vendors are offering solutions for that environment, choose a few who do the best, and then test.

For Sean Wilkins’ full piece over at Tom’s IT Pro, click here.

wireless guide coverFor information on the top 802.11ac solutions, check out our latest Buyer’s Guide:

  • Easy, side-by-side comparison of the top 802.11ac wireless vendors
  • Descriptions of each solution and their strengths
  • Important questions to ask yourself and potential vendors when considering a solution
  • Market overview of the current 802.11ac wireless space
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