Back in 2013 we started to hear about the next leap forward in wireless technology, 802.11ac. Then last year, we began to see WiFi-enabled products enter the market that integrated the new standard. Now, it’s getting harder to find the latest laptop, tablet or mobile phone that doesn’t come with 802.11ac as a standard feature. The previous wireless standard, 802.11n, will be phased out in the coming years. Given all this, is it time for your organization to upgrade its wireless access points (WAPs) to models that run 802.11ac?
The crux of the decision comes down to cost versus benefit. How much is it going to cost me to replace my existing WAPs or add new ones to my network? The answer is, it varies. You can purchase a low-end 802.11ac access point for a little over $100. On the other end of the spectrum a higher-end WAP can cost up to $1,000. Why the discrepancy? Pricing is based on the number of radios and antennas, quality of the internal components, software features and a few other factors. If you own a small- or mid-sized organization you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles. There are plenty of solutions that will allow you to take advantage of 802.11ac at a price that makes it worth your while.
Given the cost, what’s so compelling about 802.11ac WAPs that you should consider making the jump? After all, there’s a good chance most of the WiFi-ready devices accessing your network are still using 802.11n. Partly it’s planning for the future. It’s estimated that there will be more than 1 billion WiFi devices based on 802.11ac by the end of this year, and that number will only be going to grow. At some point you’re going to replace those old laptops and tablets and 802.11ac will be the only wireless option on the new devices. But what are the reasons that will really make it worth your while? Here are three.
- Superior wireless performance – 802.11ac promises up to 1.3 Gbps of wireless throughout, 3x that of 802.11n. It’s likely you won’t see that level of performance since there are many factors that influence throughput. However there’s no denying the significant speed increase 802.11ac brings. Faster performance means faster access to information which translates into higher employee productivity. Not only that, it allows your employees to utilize higher-bandwidth mobile and collaboration apps such as streaming HD video and SharePoint without experiencing the same signal degradation you get with 802.11n.
- Enhanced signal quality – Faster speeds are a great thing. So is having a high-quality wireless signal. The 802.11ac standard operates in the 5 GHz frequency band, which has fewer wireless devices competing for airspace and is therefore less prone to signal interference. In addition, 802.11ac uses wider 80 MHz channels and has more non-overlapping channels than 802.11n, which operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Add these up and the result is better signal quality.
- Backward compatibility – Like earlier wireless standards, 802.11ac is backward compatible. This means your 802.11a/b/g/n devices can still connect to an 802.11ac access point. So, if you have a significant investment in devices using these standards you’re in luck. Even better, if you choose an access point with dual radios and one of the radios supports 802.11ac, you can dedicate one radio to devices using 802.11ac and the other to devices running the older standards.
Making the move to wireless access points that support 802.11ac is going to cost you some money. Depending on your requirements, it doesn’t need to be that much. The performance benefits of high-speed wireless generally justify the expense and you’ll be setting your organization up for the future when every WiFi-enabled device you purchase comes standard with 802.11ac. SonicWall offers a family of high-speed 802.11ac wireless access points called the SonicPoint Series. Read more about how these secure, high-speed access points can help your organization.