Tag Archives: 11ac

802.11ac Is A Big Fat Pack of Lies

We’ve been hoodwinked. They snookered us. The wool has done been pulled over our eyes. Ah yes, the snake oil convention came to town, and we all went in the big tent and bought us some. But who could blame us for getting all sparkly-eyed when you breathe in the aroma of those fat numbers promised by 802.11ac? It’s intoxicating stuff, this getting-ever-faster Wi-Fi. But alas… it’s also fraudulent promises, broken hearts, and “Ha! Made you look!” all put in a shit sandwich that we’re willingly nibbling on.

OK- so maybe it’s not quite that bad. But it’s safe to say that with 802.11ac, and even 802.11n, the standards-authors are writing certain checks that the Bank of Reality just can’t cash, despite the giddy marketing folks’ best efforts to convince us otherwise.

Have I bummed you out yet? You might be wondering what could put an upbeat, good-looking fella like myself in this sort of funk. Well, I’ll tell you what sir (or madame)… I just read me an excellent- and I mean excellent- whitepaper from the very smart folks at 7signal, titled 802.11ac Migration: Real World Best Practices. I should have saw what was coming with the subtitle “Learn what vendors won’t tell about 11ac performance in real-world deployments”. Here’s the kicker: there’s nothing really new here, per se. But the cold hard facts of what a given standard “supports” versus what reality allows are presented extremely eloquently in this document. Ideally, it would be required reading for WLAN vendor marketing departments and technical managers and execs not familiar with such things.

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Download here)

I won’t give it all away, but here are a few teases:

  • We never did get to the top-end of 802.11n’s promised 600 Mbps data rates, and it’s highly doubtful we’ll recognize 11ac’s hyped 6.7 Gbps either
  • 256 QAM is awesome- if you’re standing close to an AP or have one in your pocket
  • Channel bonding is the stuff of high data rates… but you’re probably expecting too much out of this feature
  • Despite rapid adoption of 11ac, what we’ll see out of it in terms of big, impressive performance numbers will be a mere fraction of what hype tells us to expect
  • There are several other depressing little nuggets

Get the document, read it, and share it. It really is well written and injects a needed dose of reality to the 11ac buzz.

At the same time, don’t be as pissy as I’m making myself out to be in this blog (I’m a writer, and this is called creative license for those of you watching at home). 11ac is still moving the Wi-Fi cheese deeper into the 5 GHz spectrum, which is a huge gain for the greater wireless good. And…we’re still getting better rate-over-range with 11ac versus 11n, and with Ruckus breaking the ice on Wave 2, we’re getting into 4×4 APs with MU-MIMO (though 7signal deflates the MU-MIMO bluster a bit as well in the whitepaper). 

So maybe 11ac isn’t really a big fat pack of lies… perhaps it’s more like a series of Brian Williams-style “embellishments”.  But the truth here does matter for managing expectations, and that’s the point of 7signal’s excellent document.

Aerohive Brings New Access Point To Maturing 11ac Market

AP230-Hero-WB copy

Though many WLAN environments have yet to purchase their first 11ac access point, the 11ac market is certainly maturing. As counter-intuitive as that may sound, we continue to see more 11ac products and released almost weekly in the Enterprise Wi-Fi space. We also have a lot of exciting news afoot regarding 11ac client device capabilities. Both are important for a number of reasons, but before we go there let’s talk about Aerohive’s newest 11ac access point- the AP230.

I say “newest” because this is not Aerohive’s first 11ac offering. The AP370 and external-antenna version AP390 marked the company’s initial volley in the 11ac game. Now, the AP230 launch puts Aerohive on par with the likes of Cisco and Aruba who have also launched a couple of  different 11ac APs to date. So… what’s the AP230 all about? 

It’s a mix of technology and philosophy:

  • This is meant to be the new default Aerohive 11ac AP for carpeted spaces
  • 3×3, with 3 streams per band- 11n in 2.4 GHz, 11ac in 5 GHz (TxBF, 256 QAM, 80 MHz)
  • 2x Gig Ethernet with Link Aggregation
  • Application Visibility and Control (AVC) and the other features that come with your cloud-based Hive Manager account
  • As with all Aerohive access points, no controller is required for the AP230
  • Works on standard PoE (802.3af)
  • List Price: $799  Details here.

At theAP230’s price point, Aerohive hopes to make 11ac compelling enough to overcome cost concerns of those that might generally continue deploying 11n, while adding 11ac only to user-dense spaces to save on WLAN costs.

Aerohive is quick to point out that at current list pricing, the 11ac AP230 is less expensive than most competitors’ 11n offerings. Many Aerohive customers (and potential customers) will like the full-featured 11ac paradigm offered by the AP230 without the need for switch upgrades to PoE+, though top-end power output will be less than the AP370 (and some competitors’ offerings- this is one of those details you really have to drill into for clarity). For many of us, we seldom run APs at max available power in our dense WLANs, so the low cost and feature set of the AP230 will likely outweigh whatever transmit power concession you may feel is in play.

Aerohive’s latest product release is among a number of interesting milestones afoot that indicate 11ac is not only here to to stay, but is also proving to be a fast-advancing technology despite the fact that wide adoption is just beginning. To learn more, take a listen to the second-ever wirednot podcast. Here I talk about the general state of 11ac, and recent developments that you should be thinking about.  (Had an odd audio thing going on in spots, still learning the ropes on getting this right).

 (Play or Download)

There’s certainly more to come on 11ac, as this is one big story with no end end in sight at this point.

 

The Little Adapter That Could… WildPackets Gives Us First 11ac Capture/Decode

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As we all sail into the 802.11ac years, we’re getting antsy about tools that will support this rather complicated and nuanced standard.  How do you support and troubleshoot an environment made up of clients each using any one of dozens of permutations of spatial stream counts, data rates, and channel widths in wildly dynamic environments?

There has been a fair amount of buzz around early-shipping 11ac access points and clients with lots of philosophical buzz about uplinks, PoE requirements, and such. But not so much of substance has been said on the “and here’s how you’ll troubleshoot it” front. Here at Wireless Field Day 5, we spent Day 1 with a couple of network tool-makers and got perspective on where Fluke Networks and WildPackets are both going for 11ac support. Each sessions were great, with more to follow on Fluke Networks in another blog. Here’s what went down at WIldPackets.

The short of it: Wild Packets provided delegates with a nifty little USB adapter that can do legitimate 802.11ac packet analysis on their latest (7.5) OmniPeek.

I recently wrote about 11ac troubleshooting and WIldPackets a bit in my Network Computing blog, and it was great to have the opportunity to sit in WIld Packets’ conference room and get a demonstration from a master- Director of Product Marketing Jay Botelho.

Each Field Day Delegate was outfitted with the Linksys AE6000 mini USB adapter, the custom WildPackets driver that makes it all work with the all-important promiscous mode capabilities, and an eval copy of the latest OmniPeek. From there, Botelho showed the process of 11ac support with OmniPeek, discussed the challenges of 11ac when tackled at the packet level, and got the delegates each equipped to do their own captures.

Fellow delegate (and Wireless Jedi) Keith Parsons documented the process for getting this arrangement to work on a Mac laptop running Parallels- a very good read.

With 11ac, The WLAN Industry Owes Customers A New Kind Of Network Switch

I realize I’m beating the 11ac thing up pretty good lately, but I think I finally hit on what bugs me about the way the new hot technology is being brought to market. What I’m about to describe is more of a BAN issue (BAN=BigAss Network, where APs are counted in the hundreds or thousands) and not so much of concern for smaller environments.

802.11ac is being delivered in rather bizarre (for the customer) “waves”.

  • Wave 1: Data rates to 1.3 Gbps. You’ll do fine (for most new first wave APs) with a single Gig uplink, and many new APs will work on 802.3af POE, not yet requiring .3at. Fine, good. No real squawks.
  • Wave 2: You get the joy and cost of recabling your environment to add a second Gig uplink, doubling the number of switchports in use for the WLAN and configuring Etherchannels, and depending on what vintage switches you have- upgrading them for latest POE standard, all to help get to data rates likely to realistically be between 2 and 2.5 Gbps best case.

And this is where I say “time out”. I’d like the WLAN makers to bear some of that Wave 2 logistical pain. And I want them to get creative to take the onus off of the customer. Here’s what I want:

  • In simplest terms- I don’t want to use two cable runs. And I don’t want the complexity and risk of 4000 more Etherchannels for my APs. But I still want the benefits of 11ac Wave 2.
  • I would like the WLAN vendors to put their brilliant minds (and that I do mean sincerely- these guys and gals accomplish amazing, amazing stuff) to work to come up with a new switch or mid-span injector. Here’s the requirements:
    • No feature bloat. May not even need to be VLAN aware.
    • Provides lots of PoE
    • Somehow puts 2 Gbps of uplink to an AP on a single UTP run without requiring me to configure a port channel
    • Cost effective (by customer standards), no licensing BS, and ultra-reliable

Spare me the lecture that there is no such thing as 2 Gig Ethernet, and that what I’m asking for would be based in no existing standard. The WLAN industry has long since turned it’s back on standards and interoperability, which is why vendor lock prevails. Other than PoE and what comes out of the antenna (and even that can be a dubious discussion), the mention of standards is a joke in the WLAN industry as each vendor authors their own technical magic. So be it- I just want new magic and don’t care that it’s not exactly Ethernet in the middle.

I’m OK feeding this new component a 10 GB uplink that it then divvies up into auto-configured 2 Gbps AP uplinks of some proprietary protocol. Or feeding it 2 single-gig ports on my wireless management VLAN that it then magically muxes into a 2 Gbps, big powered uplink that connects via a single wiring run (of excellent quality, of course) to each AP. At that point, all of MY work was done in the closet, and I didn’t run a slew of new wires for my wireless network.

If we don’t get something disruptively creative on the wired side to go along with 11ac, pretty much any TCO discussion on new 11ac ownership presented by WLAN vendors will be incomplete at best, and poppycock at worst. I’ve seen both announced and unannounced 11ac products- and the prices are pretty steep (well, except for Ubiquit-). But we’re supposed to believe that 11ac lets us draw down the wired network considerably, and so be willing to buy into a higher premium for wireless. But… adding lots of new switchports and cabling runs (not trivial in many environments,  can add hundreds of dollars in cost to real TCO for each AP) has to be considered.

As a customer, I feel OK asking- because the customer is always right (well, except when they’re wrong). So… when will my new non-standards-based 2 Gbps mega-PoE switches arrive?