802.11ac – Is it worth the investment? Part 1 of 2.

Why would you invest in 802.11ac technology?

It’s a good question, and a common one.  For most businesses to invest in 11ac (IEEE 802.11ac), the business value of the technology needs to be measured.  This can be hard.  To assist us, it is worthwhile to set a baseline. Before we look at that however, just what is 802.11ac?

In a nutshell, it is the latest technology advancement in the IEEE standard for Wi-Fi performance or speed. Before this, there was [IEEE 802.11] a,b,g and n.  Each amendment progressively supplies faster, more efficient service to Wi-Fi clients and consequently better performance for all over a wireless medium.  From a business standpoint, you may ask how faster Wi-Fi helps your productivity?  I will attempt to answer that below.

Back to the baseline.  The baseline can be measured in two parts.

  • First, we can look at which stage of evolution your business Wi-Fi is at.
  • Second, we note which benefits 11ac can bring to an organisation’s network and what it promises in the future.

With the first part, your business may be one of three places right now:

  1. There is no existing wireless solution but there is a new business need that requires it.
  2. The business has an existing Wi-Fi installation that is over three years old and due for an upgrade. Or it is opening a new site with no Wi-Fi and is considering deploying the latest Wireless Access Points there.
  3. The business needs cutting edge technology.  It has a relatively recent installation of 802.11n and is looking to take advantage of the latest Wi-Fi enhancements in 11ac.

The second part of the baseline is understanding that 11ac technology is essentially coming in two waves.  Wave 1, the 11ac that we can buy today, provides at least a 30% speed increase over 802.11n, sometimes even 150% – but this comes with lots of caveats – more on that later. Wave 2, where the promise of the real spectacular is (at least to Wi-Fi professionals like myself), are anticipated to be released by some enterprise wireless manufacturers sometime in 2015.

Why is the speed increase important?  More throughput usually equals higher productivity.  Users can do their work faster if they are not waiting to “use” the network.  Unlike the dedicated network cable connected to your laptop with all that bandwidth just for you, wireless is a shared medium; where only one device can talk at one time and where all devices connected to the same Wi-Fi Access Point queue up, to send and receive traffic on it.  The speed increase means that devices with faster technology use the shared medium for less time to send the same amount of data.  Basically, you’re on and off faster which means a quicker performance for everyone.

So faster speed = better productivity.  But to a business, it must examine the material benefit: if my Wi-Fi transfers data say, 50% faster than before, does that provide any real value?  If I sit at my desk sending emails, preparing documents and browsing the web, is this network performance increase going to equate to markedly improved productivity on my part?  Perhaps not.  If the Wi-Fi is doing a lot of file transfers, video/voice or other downloads, then yes. I believe it is something that only each organisation can calculate for themselves.

It all ties back to the “Should I invest” question: the answer is entirely dependent upon where your business is at in the adoption of wireless.  I will talk about this in Part 2.

 

 

Business Agility and Wi-Fi

Often in business, time = money.

In a competitive market, a business must stay agile; whether it is rapid development of new ideas to open new markets, reaction to competitive threats, or using new intelligence gained from data mining (Big Data) to improve their market share.

For a business to be agile in supporting the primary business objectives, technology is considered more and more of a competitive advantage but only if it can enable the toolsets (applications and infrastructure for example) needed by staff.

The computer network is enablement.  This is not to say it is more important than any other business asset;  just that we all know what happens when the network goes down.  Productivity stops. People complain.  Customer Service is impacted.

Wi-Fi has shown that it can improve productivity in the workplace.  Staff have the flexibility to move around the office or campus environments.  By not being tied to their desks they are able to participate and work where and when required; improving not only productivity but often staff satisfaction/morale and staff retention.  It takes less time to install a wireless network than to run wired infrastructure cabling throughout a building – it is certainly cheaper – hence the office is available earlier and the business of doing business is accelerated.

BYOD devices such as tablets and Smartphones drive Wi-Fi adoption in business even further.

The ‘consumerisation’ revolution has been elevated largely through maturing Wi-Fi technology.  iPads in hotel rooms for guests to order services, restaurant waiters with Wi-Fi connected devices to order reliably,  immediately and error-free, self-registration through your smartphone at events…Companies or organisations are constantly innovating using technology over the Wi-Fi network to showcase new services and/or new products.

I see Wi-Fi as a true enabler of improved agility in today’s business environment.

When Wi-Fi is professionally designed and implemented, it will always be there. Invisible, reliable and immediate, like turning on a light switch.