Common Questions and Our Answers on 802.11ac and 802.11ad

One of the most popular topics from our webinars, the media, and of course our customers is 802.11ac and 802.11ad, two emerging wireless standards that will continue to propel the popularity of 802.11 wireless networking. In this blog we’ll cover the most common questions that we receive regarding these new 802.11 protocols. If you have other questions, please feel free to send us a message on twitter (@wildpackets) or leave a comment at the end of this blog post.

If you are simply looking for the 101 on both of these technologies, we suggest watching our ondemand webcast, “802.11 – Who is Ready for 802.11ac and ad?” or checking out the videos below, which provide a quick encapsulation of these new wireless technologies.

With that, here are some common questions that we’re getting from our customers and the wireless community at large.

Q: Will stations and access points require updates to leverage 802.11ac and 802.11ad?
A: Yes. If you are planning to take advantage of 802.11ac or 802.11ad technologies, you will need to purchase new stations and access points; it can’t simply be done with firmware updates. The underlying chipsets are new for these technologies.

802.11ac APs will be backward compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n clients, but those clients will not be able to take advantage of the new 802.11ac capabilities.

Q: Will 802.11ac replace 802.11n?
A: Our prediction is that 802.11ac will replace 802.11n, over time. 802.11ac is a “lessons learned” from 802.11n, so it includes all of the benefits, and more, with less of the drawbacks. But if you’ve already deployed 802.11n , or are in the process, there’s no need to worry. 802.11n is still a very capable technology that will serve you well for many years to come.

Q: Is 802.11ac better for VoIP?
With VoIP you don’t need a lot of bandwidth, but you need reliability, and improvements at both the PHY and MAC layers in 802.11ac provide exactly that.

Additionally, 802.11ac improves beam forming, which was first introduced with 802.11n, and this will help with real-time transport applications like video or voice over IP.

That said, as we mentioned above, 802.11n is a perfectly good technology, so you’ll need to decide the cost benefit of VoIP to your business. If you consistently see problems with VoIP and use VoIP applications like Skype for business, then it might behoove you to make the switch. But if you’re happy with your VoIP performance, then you may not want to replace all of your access points and stations to switch over to 802.11ac just yet.

Q: Can a single VoIP call leverage multiple data streams?
A: Yes, VoIP can leverage multiple data streams, just as with any other application on the wireless network. This does of course assume that both the AP and client can support multiple data streams. Remember, MIMO (or multiple data streams) is only supported with 802.11n and 802.11ac.

Q: Can you explain the power consumption between 802.11n and 802.11ac?
A: Power consumption is all about the number of radios required to generate a certain data rate. And for battery operated devices, minimizing the number of radios (in fact, requiring only one), is tantamount to acceptable battery life, especially for “power” users (pun intended). A single radio 802.11n device will get you up to 150Mbps (megabits per second). With 802.11ac devices you’ll get almost three times that data rate for a single radio, or 433Mbps. So almost 3x the performance for the same battery life!

Q: Are the four channels in 802.11ad non-overlapping?
The four channels are non-overlapping. This is possible because 802.11ad is designed to use an entirely new part of the spectrum so channel allocation can be made with channel bonding in mind. The 2.4 and 5GHz bands never had this luxury, since channel bonding came along well after the channels were assigned.

For more information on 802.11ac, sign up for next month’s webinar, “802.11ac – Wireless Gigabit Speeds Driving Changes in Wireless Analysis

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