1. Five steps to successful deployment of 802.11ac

    Five steps to successful deployment of 802.11ac

    By Vicki Vaughn, October 23, 2013

    It seems that every year there is a new flavor of 802.11 for wireless devices. This year is no different with 802.11ac, the newest standard for next-generation Wi-Fi. However, what makes this latest wireless standard important to deploy is its ability to support next-generation wireless devices that greatly exceeds the past 802.11 releases. The multiplying numbers of users and their numerous devices and applications demand gigabit speed, increased capacity and reliability that 802.11ac delivers.

    For many, deployment plans are underway while others are still exploring the benefits and requirements. If you’re in the later group, the following steps will help you understand what to consider and how to plan a successful migration to an 802.11ac wireless LAN (WLAN).

    Hardware requirements

    First, know that 802.11n hardware is NOT upgradeable to 802.11ac. You will have to replace your existing hardware to support it. However, the good news is that 802.11ac is backward compatible. You’ll be able to gradually migrate your devices from 802.11a/b/g/n.

    Step1 – Audit current infrastructure

    What makes 802.11ac a significant improvement over n, is that it is all about gigabit Wi-Fi. You’ll need to review your existing infrastructure, such as your access switches, to ensure they are able to support at least 10Gb uplinks. Plus, they’ll also need to support PoE+ (802.3at) on every port.

    Step 2 – Evaluate capacity requirements

    Every network is different in terms of users and needs. A reasonable guide is to anticipate at least three devices per user (tablet, laptop, smartphone). You can expect to support 20-30 devices per radio or 40-60 on a dual-radio AP.

    You’ll also need to consider capacity requirements for voice over Wi-Fi, multicast video over Wi-Fi and other potential new uses.

    Step 3 – Evaluate RF requirements

    It’s a good idea to do a physical survey for complex deployments to verify AP locations and signal coverage. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as doing a one-for-one replacement of APs if you have a fairly complex deployment. Questions to consider are: Which RF bands to use? What channel width? Will you use real-time location services?

    Step 4 – Chose the right APs

    I know this is obvious, but APs should be selected based on what is best suited for your environment to provide optimal performance and RF coverage. Do you have a unique situation you have to account for?

    Another issue to keep in mind is that mobile device clients tend to stick to one AP as they roam instead of connecting with a closer AP that would provide them a stronger signal. You want an AP that eliminates sticky clients.

    Step 5 – Determine your deployment plan

    The last step is putting together your deployment plan. While it may seem financially sound to gradually roll out 802.11ac, keep in mind that performance could be impacted and degrade the user’s experience in a mixed environment. If a progressive roll out is required, deploy a floor at a time in a multi-storied building, or one building at a time. In general, mixed deployments are not recommended.

    802.11ac offers a big improvement for wireless LAN performance. The real question is not whether to deploy it but when will it be a part of your network?

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