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What is MU-MIMO wireless technology?

Did you know that wireless technology dates back to the 19th century? Through the years, great inventors like Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla helped mold the concepts and theories behind electromagnetic radio frequency (RF).

It wasn’t until 1997, however, that the first 802.11 technology was introduced, which is known as the 802.11 legacy standard today. Since then, each new standard either introduced new technology or significantly improved over an older one.

The same holds true for 802.11ac technology. 802.11ac Wave 1 offered a significant enhancement over its predecessor, 802.11n. 802.11ac Wave 1 provided higher channel bandwidth and a new modulation scheme, significantly increasing the max data rates.

The Wave 2 wireless standard

Technology is always replaced and improved upon. Here, 802.11ac Wave 1 technology was replaced by today’s 802.11ac Wave 2 technology. With technologies like the Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), increased channel width and more spatial streams (SS) than ever before to make Wave 2 technology a game-changer. Even though the theoretical maximum data rate as per the Wave 2 standard is 6.9 Gbps (8SS AP), the theoretical maximum with a 4SS access point (AP) is 3.5 Gbps.

Specs802.11n802.11ac Wave 1802.11ac Wave 2
Frequency band2.4 GHz and 5 GHz5 GHz5 GHz
MIMO supportSU-MIMOSU-MIMOMU-MIMO
Max channel width40 MHz80 MHz160 MHz
Max Spatial streams448
Modulation64-QAM256-QAM256-QAM
Beamformingimplicit and explicitexplicitexplicit
Backward compatibility11a/b/g11a/b/g/n11a/b/g/n
Max data rates600 Mbps1.7 Gbps6.9 Gbps

Compare the evolution of wireless capabilities from 802.11n to today’s Wave 2 standard.

What is MU-MIMO and how is it different from SU-MIMO?

MU-MIMO is a Wave 2 technology. With Single User Multiple Input Multiple Output (SU-MIMO), the AP is able to talk to only one client at a time. However, with MU-MIMO technology the AP can now transmit up to four devices at a time in the downstream direction.

Talking to more devices in a single transmission decreases airtime, increases efficiency and delivers a better user experience. For MU-MIMO to work, both the AP and the client must support the technology. Since the 11ac Wave 2 technology is backwards-compatible, if the Wave 2 AP has to transmit to a Wave 1 device it will fall back to the Wave 1 technology and use SU-MIMO to transmit.

MU-MIMO improves wireless speed, performance

Faster data transmission with MU-MIMO improves efficiency and ensures more airtime for all clients.  802.11ac Wave 2 enhancements lead to faster data rates, providing higher throughputs, better performance and user experience.

With a 4SS AP, operating on 160MHz channel, sending data to a 3SS client device, the maximum data rate that can be achieved is 2.6 Gbps. However, this is the maximum theoretical data rate. For reference, the latest Apple MacBook Pro is a 3SS 802.11ac Wave 1 device. The MacBook Air is a 2SS 802.11ac Wave 1 device and the Galaxy S3 is a 1SS 802.11ac Wave 1 device.

Overall, MU-MIMO increases network capacity and throughput. This allows the wireless network to meet the rising demand for data-hungry applications. Since the wireless access point can talk to multiple devices at the same time, the number of devices in the queue decreases, resulting in reduced wait time and latency. Increase in the overall network capacity and reduced latency benefits not just the Wave 1 and Wave 2 devices, but also the legacy clients. More than one client is needed to take advantage of MU-MIMO.

Specs1SS2SS3SS4SS
4SS, 80MHz43386713001733
4SS, 160MHz867173326003466

Wave 2 access point data rates in Mbps with different client types.

What happens during MU-MIMO transmission?

A MU-MIMO-capable AP sends a sounding signal to the client devices in the network. Each of the clients sends back a Channel State Information (CSI) based on the information it receives from the sounding signal. The AP calculates the phase and signal strength based on the CSI it receives from each client and selects the MU-MIMO-capable devices that can be grouped in one transmission.

Does MU-MIMO rely on any external factors?

Yes, MU-MIMO relies heavily on multipath and beamforming. Multipath is the process of two or more signals reaching the client at the same time or within nanoseconds of each other. Multipath happens due to RF barriers like walls, metal surfaces and concrete that cause the signals to reflect, refract, etc. Beamforming, however, directs the signal in the direction of the client.

Is it the right time to buy 802.11ac Wave 2 or should I wait for 802.11ax?

According to multiple analyst sources, the Wi-Fi market is not slowing down. For instance, IHS forecasts 11ac Wave 2 technology to increase 12 percent annually for the next three years. There are a number of Wave 2-capable devices in the market today and this will increase in the near future.

Should you wait for 802.11ax? The answer is simple: no. You are looking at a couple of years for the full-fledged adoption of 11ax products. The standard in itself is expected to be ratified in late 2019 after which it needs to pass interoperability testing by Wi-Fi Alliance.

Once manufacturers release 11ax-capable APs that are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, mainstream adoption will occur, which is expected to be around 2020. At the same time, 11ax-capable client devices are required to reap the full benefits of the 11ax network. For the next couple of years, 11ac Wave 2 technology will remain the next-gen wireless connectivity standard.

Where can I buy Wave 2 wireless access points?

SonicWall SonicWave Wave 2 access points (432i/432e/432o 802.11ac) provide all the benefits of Wave 2 technology. You can expect superior performance and reliability with these access points. MU-MIMO technology enables SonicWave 400 series access points to transmit up to four devices at the same time.

To implement best practices in wireless networking and wireless security, download our complimentary technical brief, “SonicWall Wireless Network Security.” Learn how SonicWall wireless network security solutions can alleviate performance and security concerns, enabling you to extend your business network without jeopardizing its integrity.

Wireless Security: Why You Need to Take It Seriously In 2018

When waves of cyber attacks hit last year, such as WannaCry and Not Petya ransomwares, businesses lost billions of dollars in high-profile breaches. In addition, more than half of the U.S. population’s Social Security information was compromised in the Equifax breach. It was a record-breaking year.

Perhaps the only good that came out of these fiascos is that users became more aware of the importance of cyber security. But it is no longer sufficient to only care about wired network security. Organizations and businesses also have to pay attention to other aspects of security, such as physical security and wireless security.

In line with multiple cyber security forecasts, such as our 8 Cyber Security Predictions for 2018, organizations need to watch out for more sophisticated attacks in 2018. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, more than 9 billion wireless devices will be used in 2018. Gartner forecasts connected devices to rise from 11 billion in 2018 to over 20 billion by 2020. With the proliferation of wireless-enabled and IoT devices, wireless network security is vital.

However, not all wireless security solutions are equal. Last year, for example, many dealt with KRACK (Key Reinstallation Attack), which leveraged a WPA2 vulnerability that could lead to man-in-the-middle attacks. While many wireless vendors suffered this vulnerability, SonicWall wireless access points were not vulnerable.

How do I choose a wireless security solution?

It can be easy to get drawn in by sales pitches that show you pretty dashboards, features that you don’t need or seldom use, or super-expensive gear that you pay a premium for just because of the brand name.

Instead, take a step back and think of what you really should care about: a Wi-Fi connection that actually works with unfaltering security. Make sure you are committing yourself to a vendor that takes security, user experience and reliability very seriously.

How can I make my Wi-Fi secure?

Organizations, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) and individual users can implement cyber security best practices to drastically reduce Wi-Fi vulnerabilities.

  • First and foremost, make sure that you are not broadcasting an open SSID (how others see and connect to your wireless network)
  • Adjust the transmit power on your access points to serve just the area of coverage that is required
  • For corporate networks, separate guest users from internal users
  • Turn on rogue detection and ensure that firewall settings, such as DPI-SSL/TLS are enabled on your network
  • To further improve security, add a firewall to your network

Wireless is an overlay to your wired network. Adding a firewall with an integrated wireless controller capability to your network will further enhance the security of your entire network. The benefits of adding such a firewall include:

  • Complete management of wireless and wired infrastructure
  • Granular application identification, control and visualization
  • Discover and block advanced threats and vulnerabilities
  • Improved security posture and performance that scale to your business requirements

Though there are many wireless security features that can enhance your wireless security, some are more critical than others. Basic functionalities like Wireless Intrusion Detection System (WIDS) and Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS) must be supported across wired and wireless infrastructure.

Others cyber security capabilities, like application control, content filtering and deep-packet inspection (DPI) even over encrypted traffic, are all essential.

Adding multi-layered security protection to your overall network infrastructure will help minimize network breach success. In order to support the next-generation mobile workforce, BYOD and ability to implement wireless guest services is significant. Site tools can be used to survey wireless signals to optimize the required area of coverage.

These wireless security capabilities, coupled with single-pane-of-glass management, makes it effective and efficient for network admins to have visibility into the network and detect threats on a real-time basis.

Should I buy a SonicWall wireless access point?

SonicWall is a pioneering leader in cyber security, providing seamless security and comprehensive breach detection across wired, wireless, cloud and mobile networks. Best-in-class security latest 802.11ac Wave 2 technology, and an attractive price point make SonicWave wireless access point solutions a sound choice for organizations of all sizes and industries.

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SonicWave wireless access points come in three options:

  • SonicWave 432i (internal antenna version)
  • SonicWave 432e (external antenna version)
  • SonicWave 432o (outdoor access point)

The SonicWave 432 Series comes with a built-in third radio for dedicated security scanning. While many companies provide security and wireless products, SonicWall offers a true end-to-end secure wireless solution.

Need more information about wireless access security? Read our executive brief, “Why You Need Complete Wireless and Mobile Access Security.” Together, let’s make sure your network is ready to face these challenges, and create a fail-proof network for a secure, next-generation user experience.

Protect Your Wireless Network from the KRACK WiFi Vulnerability

There’s a general feeling that WiFi is less secure than having a wired connection to the network. It could just be our perception that a signal travelling through air is easier to intercept than one moving across a physical Ethernet cable. When a new WiFi vulnerability is uncovered such as the one in WPA2 which Belgian researchers recently made public, it gets a lot of attention. And why not? After all, we use WiFi-enabled devices every day and most organizations provide WiFi to their employees, customers and guests. Therefore it’s reasonable to be nervous that your wireless access point may be at risk from KRACKs (key reinstallation attacks). But is this true for everyone?

In his blog, “Are There KRACKS in Your Wireless Network Security?” John Gordineer points out that SonicWall SonicWave wireless access points (APs) provide an extra level of protection against these attacks. Let’s take a closer look at how they do this. SonicWave APs provide something very few other access points on the market have – a third radio dedicated to security. Why is that important? Most access points have two radios. One operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency band and the other in the 5 GHz band. In order to perform security scanning for rogue APs, you need to take one of those radios away from its normal duties for a period of time. The problem is, this consolidates all wireless users onto a single radio, slowing the wireless performance providing a poor user experience. Now, you can schedule the scan for the middle of the night when there are fewer wireless users, but that’s like turning on a security camera for only 30 minutes each day. The odds that the attack occurs during this short window are pretty small. On the other hand, SonicWave APs use that third radio to scan for and block rogue access points 24×7 so you’re covered around the clock. If an unauthorized access point is detected it can be automatically disassociated from the network and traffic between the access point and clients will be blocked. Here’s how it looks in SonicOS, the firmware of the managing SonicWall firewall.

Let’s apply this to the WPA2 vulnerability that opens WiFi networks to key reinstallation attacks. Hackers within WiFi range can use KRACKs to steal sensitive organizational and personal information. To do this, the hacker attaches a rogue access point called an “evil twin” to the WiFi network, mirroring the MAC address and SSID of the real AP. Using certain techniques within the KRACK, the hacker redirects unpatched clients to connect to the rogue AP. Then, during the four-way handshake between the real access point and client device, the hacker launches a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack and forces the client to reinstall an encryption key that’s been used already, something that the WPA2 protocol was thought to prevent. The WiFi client associates with the evil twin access point using unencrypted data transmissions making it easy for the attacker to read the communications.

SonicWave access points on the other hand protect against KRACKs in two ways. First, they don’t support the IEEE 802.11r Fast BSS Transition (aka fast roaming) which is vulnerable to KRACKs due to protocol deficiencies. And second, SonicWave access points use AES-CCMP for the key exchange, so the hacker cannot forge the key and join the network. To get around this, hackers may attempt to deploy an “evil twin” access point on a different WiFi channel to fool wireless clients into connecting to the rogue AP instead of the SonicWave AP. As I mentioned earlier, however, this won’t work with SonicWave APs due to the third radio which continually scans for and blocks rogue access points from connecting to the network using Wireless Intrusion Detection and Prevention. There’s even an option in the Wireless Intrusion Detection and Prevention settings to add evil twins to a list of rogue APs.

If you’re in the market for a new wireless access point check with the vendor to see if it comes with two radios or three like the SonicWave series. Having that third radio will provide you with a range of advantages you won’t get with standard two-radio APs including added protection against attacks like KRACK.

To dive deeper, watch the SonicWave Access Point Video.

Wave 2 Wireless Standard Powers SonicWall’s New High-Performance SonicWave Access Points

Over the past few months, Verizon has launched a series of television ads in which the main character utters the line, “Right plan, wrong network.” The actor saying the line is talking to another character who is clearly having an unhappy experience with his/her cellular connection. If you own a mobile phone, it’s likely you’ve gone through something similar at one point.

While the focus is on cellular in this case, the same can be said for Wi-Fi. It’s all about the user experience. Slow wireless performance is a big turn-off. If you’re providing wireless connectivity to employees, customers, students or guests, odds are you’ve heard complaints about the performance of your wireless network at some point.

Of course, there are a number of factors that impact the quality of the wireless connection, such as physical objects, proximity to an access point and, if you’re outdoors, weather. None of this matters to Wi-Fi users, however. They just expect to have lightning-fast connectivity.

The Wave 2 Wireless Standard Is Here

Something else that affects performance is the technology behind the wireless signal. If you’re like me and still have an iPhone 5 that only supports the 802.11n wireless standard, you’re not expecting much. However, if you have a more modern phone you can take advantage of the faster 802.11ac standard, which has been around for the past five or so years.

This assumes the access point (AP) you’re connecting to also supports that standard. Times are changing once again and the new standard is 802.11ac Wave 2, which promises multi-gigabit wireless performance.

In fact, we’re right in the middle of the transition to Wave 2 technology, which means more client devices (e.g., phones, laptops, tablets, etc.) that support the new standard are coming to market along with Wave 2 wireless access points. To take advantage of the faster speeds, both the client and access point must support Wave 2.

Introducing SonicWave Wireless Access Points

Given the seemingly universal use of wireless in retail stores, schools, doctors’ offices and other locations, and the need for high-speed connectivity, SonicWall is extending its portfolio of wireless products with the introduction of a series of 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless access points.

The SonicWave series features two indoor access points, the 432e and 432i, and one outdoor access point, the 432o. All three models are built on the idea of delivering an exceptionally fast, secure and reliable wireless experience.

SonicWave access points support the 802.11ac wireless standard, so they’re able to take advantage of performance and reliability features such as Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO), which enables simultaneous transmission from the access point to multiple wireless clients instead of just one.

A built-in 2.5 GbE port eliminates the need for multiple 1 GbE ports to facilitate multi-gigabit throughput. For enhanced reliability, beamforming focuses the wireless signal on an individual client instead of spreading the data transmission equally in all directions.

Wireless Security, Speed

From an organizational standpoint, providing high-speed wireless is essential. It enables the use of bandwidth-intensive apps and faster sharing of data. Securing that data as it travels across the wireless network is equally important.

SonicWall’s solution to the need for wireless security and speed is something we call Wireless Network Security, which combines SonicWave access points with our next-generation firewalls, such as the NSA series.

All inbound and outbound Wi-Fi traffic is scanned by the SonicWall firewall’s high-speed deep packet inspection (DPI) engine, including TLS/SSL encrypted connections, so threats such as ransomware and intrusions are removed. Unknown files are analyzed by our Capture Advanced Threat Protection service to eliminate zero-day threats.

Other security and control capabilities, such as content filtering, application control and intelligence, can be run on the wireless network to provide added layers of protection. The solution also integrates additional security-related features, including wireless intrusion detection and prevention, virtual access points and wireless guest services.

How else can SonicWall help you provide a fast, reliable and secure wireless experience?

  • Dedicated third security radio – Continually scan the wireless spectrum for rogue access points without impacting performance using the SonicWave access point’s third radio, something very few Wave 2 access points on the market provide.
  • MiFi Extender – Attach a 3G/4G/LTE modem to the SonicWave access point for use as either the primary wide area network (WAN) or as a secondary failover WAN link for business continuity.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (aka Bluetooth Smart) radio – Use industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) applications for healthcare, fitness, retail beacons, security and home entertainment over a low-energy link.
  • AirTime Fairness – Distribute air time equally among connected clients, ensuring faster clients get more data in their time while slower clients receive less.
  • Band steering – Steer dual-band clients to connect automatically to the less-crowded 5 GHz frequency band, leaving the more-crowded 2.4 GHz frequency for legacy clients.

Wave 2 wireless technology is here and with it comes the promise of a faster and better user experience. To learn more about how the SonicWall SonicWave series can help you provide that experience, explore the new SonicWave series on our website.

SonicOS 6.5, the Biggest Update in Company History, Delivers Powerful Security, Networking and Usability Capabilities

Keeping organizations running safely, while improving business and user productivity in today’s accelerating threat environment, continues to be a non-trivial task for IT leaders. At the current pace of cyber attacks, we understand all too well that the effects of recent events, such as the Equifax, WannaCry and NotPetya attacks, have demonstrated their capacity to change the global business environment from normal to total hysteria in the blink of an eye.

When news breaks on new data breaches, we see a surge in conversations with our SonicWall partner and customer communities about security and risk assessments. These engagements reinforce our development commitment to ensure every new product release delivers more tools and capabilities to protect their networks and data, and subsequently avoid the unnecessary breach.

Delivering on that commitment, I am thrilled to introduce SonicWall’s biggest firewall feature release in its history. SonicWall SonicOS 6.5 is packed with powerful security, networking and usability capabilities, and meets the security operation requirements of organizations of various sizes and use cases. SonicOS 6.5 focuses on empowering IT leaders and their security teams to:

  • Elevate their breach detection and prevention capacity
  • Manage and enforce security controls across the entire organization
  • Bring the latest in wireless speed, performance and security for cloud and mobile users
  • Scale firewall networking, connectivity and performance for uncompromised, uninterrupted network services

SonicOS 6.5 delivers the following customer-focused outcomes as part of SonicWall’s expanding Automated Real-Time Breach Detection and Prevention Platform.

1. Bolster breach prevention capabilities for wired, wireless and cloud-enabled network environments

  • SonicOS 6.5 includes 60-plus new features, nearly half of which focus on enabling the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac Wave 2, to deliver matching network security performance, connectivity and security between wired and wireless networks.
  • The combination of SonicWall firewalls and the new SonicWave 802.11ac Wave 2 series of wireless access points gives customers the assurance that their users have uninterrupted, secure and fast access to business services and resources over wired and wireless connections.
  • Built-in features, like Wireless Deployment Tools, greatly aid in planning and building a robust wireless infrastructure, while Band Steering, Airtime Fairness and others improve the overall wireless service quality and performance to give users a safe, productive wireless experience. This helps eliminate dropped connections and slowness anytime, anywhere and in any environment within the workplace. Moreover, Dynamic VLAN assignment segments wireless users based on their roles and group associations to prevent advanced threats from spreading.
  • SonicOS 6.5 expands the threat API capabilities to help customers establish a path toward security automation. Through greater firewall collaboration with third-party security ecosystem, the firewall can automatically pull external intelligence sources for threat detection and protection, and security policies enforcement. For example, our Dynamic Botnet List feature enables customers to program their firewalls to download private third-party lists that contain desired security information, such as malicious IP and URL addresses, that they want the firewall to block for additional threat coverage.
  • For distributed organizations that have offices operating on different network domains, the new multi-domain security management capability in SonicOS 6.5 helps them manage and enforce discrete security policies across those domains. Based on service levels, risk tolerance, compliance and/or legal requirements, administrators can apply identical security controls to all domains or specific policy to a single domain or group of domains. This flexibility helps reduce the attack surface, eliminate security gaps, isolate risks and prevent any lateral movement of backdoor, network-based attacks, such as WannCry and NotPetya.

2. Increase scalability and connectivity of the firewall system

  • Advances in Layer 2/3 network and connectivity help customers optimize system availability and performance, and scale the firewall to deliver uncompromised, uninterrupted threat protection for every connected network domain. Supported on all SonicWall next-generation firewall (NGFW) models, including the newest NSA 2650, SonicOS 6.5 also supports daisy-chaining and management of Dell X-Series switches, Virtual Wire Mode, Dynamic LAG using LACP and Equal Cost Multi-Path (ECMP).
  • Using multi-domain security management in conjunction with virtual wire mode gives customers the ability to micro-segment and manage their virtual networks. These also provide independent security management, policies, controls and scanning to each virtual network with its separate security zone.

3. Improve ease of use and firewall management

  • SonicOS 6.5 introduces a completely redesigned user interface (UI) for a fresh, productive user experience (UX). This new UI gives users an executive dashboard loaded with security, user and traffic information. It also offers an organized, familiar and easily-understood menu-driven security management console. The dashboard presents a consolidated view of the live firewall security environment. This view includes a threat index, security events and data, network performance and connectivity, and application and bandwidth usage. The intuitive UI lets users complete security tasks faster, and with greater ease, from a single-pane-of-glass.