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June 15, 2016

The New Wave: Boosting Productivity for the Mobile Workforce

Mobile devices – and the demands by mobile users – are reshaping the way work gets done and where. Enterprises have responded by expanding their wireless networks and, in many cases, adopting gigabit Wave 1 implementations of 802.11ac to boost Wi-Fi performance and improve customer experience.

With this growing dependence on the wireless network, even a few minutes of downtime can result in considerable loss of productivity and money. Organizations need a fast and reliable Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Wave 2 implementations of 802.11ac can provide key capacity and density capabilities needed to ensure reliable connectivity for the growing influx of Wi-Fi-enabled devices on enterprise networks. By planning for this rising tide of data consumption and selecting the right Wave 2 products, enterprises can ensure their network doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Trends in Wi-Fi Traffic

A number of trends are driving the need for multi-gigabit Wave 2 implementations, including:

Increasing numbers of wireless devices: The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon is here to stay as users have come to expect all aspects of their lives to be mobile friendly. In addition to smartphones, laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart TVs, security cameras and digital signage are also connecting to the enterprise network. More devices translate to a need for more bandwidth and denser Wi-Fi deployments.  

The rise of video:  Video conferencing has become a staple of business operations. Whether enterprises are using room-based conferencing systems or applications such as Skype for Business, video conferencing traffic is creating the need for increased bandwidth.

Video has become the leading type of digital content both at work and in users’ personal lives. Video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo as well as video streaming services such as Periscope are being used for a range of business purposes, from employee training to product demonstrations. In addition to the rising consumption of video, the bandwidth required for video has increased with each new generation of smartphone. Enterprises need to beef up their Wi-Fi networks to handle this traffic.

New mobile applications: Mobile devices are driving development of new types of applications, including cloud-based services that allow anytime, anywhere access to business apps and data; guest access; mobile engagement; location services; and Wi-Fi voice calls, to name a few. In addition, users are running more and more mobile apps on each device, further stressing Wi-Fi capacity.

Vertical market applications: Mobility is driving demand for Wi-Fi across a range of industries and organization types. Consider education. Many new classrooms are designed to be completely wireless, enabling teachers and students to download instructional materials in real time, conduct virtual classrooms using Apple TV and Chromecast over Wi-Fi connections, and stream content. A growing number of universities and colleges are offering online classes and lectures – and this anytime, anywhere access to course content gives students greater control over their schedules.

Hospitals and medical offices are embracing Wi-Fi to improve care and outcomes, as well as providing a better level of service for their patients. For example, doctors can enter patient notes, access digital images and perform many other tasks on their mobile devices. Wi-Fi-enabled applications and medical devices, such as mobile X-ray machines, are becoming commonplace and allow doctors and technicians to readily access patient files.

Hospital patients have also come to expect Wi-Fi access everywhere from the waiting room to their hospital bed. Many patients bring a smartphone or tablet for their stay; some want to continue working while recovering, while others surf the Web or access social media networks. And patient visitors are also relying on Wi-Fi to connect as guests to the hospital network on their own devices. All this creates added traffic that could cause bandwidth constraints to the hospital or medical office’s network.

Key Features of Wave 2

Wave 1 of 802.11ac implementations provide big advances over 802.11n, including a 3x performance increase; a doubling of the RF channel width from 40 to 80 MHz, allowing twice the throughput; and support for up to three spatial streams.

Wave 2 further boosts performance and better supports high-density environments, such as lecture halls and conference centers. Wave 2 features:

  • A fourth spatial stream, which can boost performance over Wave 1 by 33 percent
  • Multi-user multiple input/multiple output (MU-MIMO), which enables an access point (AP) to transmit to multiple .11ac clients at the same time
  • Increased channel width to 160MHz, which will be usable when governments open up channels to reduce interference

Wave 2 makes it easy for enterprises to address both capacity and density requirements, improving the reliability of Wi-Fi connections. For example, a single AP can serve the same number of clients with greater per-client throughput and, in dense deployments, a single AP can serve more clients with the same throughput.

With MU-MIMO, an AP can talk to multiple devices at the same time in the download direction, significantly improving overall use of network bandwidth. Multi-user MIMO is a huge advantage for live video streaming on Wi-Fi since video is continuous and demands higher bandwidth and low latency.

Migrating to Wave 2

Organizations that haven’t yet migrated to 802.11ac should consider making the transition soon, as they will find it increasingly difficult to fulfill the needs of a mobile workforce. The right Wi-Fi solution can ease this transition as well as enhance existing Wave 1 deployments.

When evaluating Wave 2 solutions, you should look for these capabilities:

  • The ability to automatically identify MU-MIMO-capable Wave 2 mobile devices and steer such devices to the closest Wave 2-capable AP. This capability improves individual device performance and overall network performance by boosting capacity and efficiency. It’s key to supporting device density and ensuring that even the slowest clients get the bandwidth they need, including legacy 802.11n and Wave 1 clients.
  • The ability to identify applications, including video, voice and encrypted business-critical applications, and apply policies to them. This capability is particularly important given the rise in video traffic since not all video is business-critical. IT needs the ability to prioritize, block, and enforce bandwidth limits on this traffic.
  • Active RF management, including air time fairness to ensure all clients have fair Wi-Fi access; the ability to minimize co-channel interference; spectrum optimization through dynamic channel selection; and channel load balancing to ensure even distribution of clients across available channels.
  • A portfolio of APs with various uplink options that can better fit the deployment and capacity needs.

Today’s mobile workforce expects fast, reliable network performance for their data-hungry and video-heavy apps, regardless of where they are on the enterprise campus. With the right Wave 2 solution, organizations can deliver just that.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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