Mar 14 2016

10 Ways to Prepare the Network for 802.11ac

Organizations can take steps now to ensure the future of their wireless infrastructures.

An enterprise planning to deploy 802.11ac, either in the short term or as a long-term objective, can take steps now to begin preparing the network for the transition. It is important to remember that rolling out new wireless capabilities requires attention to the wired network and back-end supporting infrastructure.

Organizations can prepare for the transition by keeping these 10 principles in mind:

1. Review the Existing Wired Network

Organizations should plan to begin their wireless transition with a thorough review of the wired network to ensure that appropriate capacity exists to support current and planned wireless growth.

2. Plan for Backward Compatibility

While it may be possible to upgrade the network infrastructure all at once or in large segments, it is normally not possible to do the same for wireless clients. Organizations will likely wish to retain legacy clients through the end of their useful life and will need to retain 2.4GHz networks during that transition.

3. Review Management and Operations Requirements

As organizations roll out 802.11ac, it is important to develop a change management and support plan. It should answer questions such as:

  • How will users and devices be transitioned to the new network?
  • Who will support the 802.11ac network in production?
  • Does the support team have an appropriate skill set, or is additional training required prior to rollout?
  • Is the division of responsibilities among the help desk, front-line support staff and networking groups clear?

4. Use Enterprise-Class 802.11ac Solutions

Networking vendors are now offering a variety of enterprise-grade 802.11ac solutions. These devices integrate with existing enterprise network management tools and provide the sophisticated management capabilities that allow remote device configuration and tuning. Projects that seek to deploy a new wireless standard throughout the enterprise may also use the opportunity to enhance network management capabilities.

5. Plan for Capacity, Not Throughput Alone

Planning a wireless network deployment requires putting thought into both the bandwidth that will be consumed by wireless clients and the total number of clients that will be accessing the network. Locations where an organization expects large concentrations of end users, such as auditoriums, conference rooms or waiting areas, require a greater density of APs than less congested locations.

6. 802.11ac Technology Will Improve Client Performance

Every time users gain access to a technology that provides greater network capacity, new use cases quickly arise to consume the available bandwidth. It is likely that the improved client performance that results from adopting 802.11ac networking will have a dramatic effect on bandwidth consumption. APs with multiple radios should even help improve performance of devices using older 802.11 standards.

7. Plan for Gigabit-at-the-Edge Switching

Regardless of where they are in the 802.11ac adoption cycle, organizations should begin planning their edge switching infrastructure to support greater capacity. This requires using switches that support gigabit connections to APs and Power over Ethernet 802.11at.

Given the long lifecycle of switching equipment, it makes sense to begin deploying this technology immediately.

8. Use 10/40/100Gbps or More Connections from the Edge to the Core

As organizations extend gigabit connections to the edges of their networks, the aggregation of those edge connections will also require additional capacity. Network planners should plan to meet this demand with 10/40/100Gbps connections between edge and core switches.

9. Core Switching Will Require at Least 10/40/100Gbps Interfaces

The final link in the upgrade chain is that the core switches that aggregate connections from the edge must be capable of handling multiple 10/40/100Gbps connections. Even if an organization plans to wait until Wave 2 of the 802.11ac equipment is available and mainstreamed, they should still plan to upgrade core switches with sufficient capacity during the next upgrade cycle.

10. Radio Frequency (RF) Designs Should Be Done from a 5GHz Perspective

5GHz signals have shorter ranges and are much less tolerant of physical barriers, such as walls, doors and windows. Organizations will find that they cannot simply replace their 2.4GHz APs with 802.11ac devices. RF studies done in conjunction with new construction or network upgrade projects should be conducted with 5GHz networks in mind to avoid added cabling and construction costs during an eventual 802.11ac implementation.

Preparing the network for the imminent or eventual use of 802.11ac wireless technology requires that enterprises consider many different design elements. The sooner planners begin preparing for the upgrade, the more time they will have to fit required upgrades into scheduled equipment purchases and replacements, reducing the future costs of an upgrade initiative.

For more information on the 802.11ac standard, read the white paper, “Achieving a Best-in-Class Wireless Infrastructure.”


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