Halloween is right around the corner, and one thing I learned from last month’s Wireless Field Day is that 802.11ac is apparently scary. Quite a few of the delegates asked me why the industry appears to be scared of 802.11ac.
I guess we’re just weird at Aerohive because we love 802.11ac.
Why? Several years ago when speaking at a conference, I distilled the essence of my career into a simple principle: Users always want to send more data, so when there’s a choice to be made, bet that users will increase the network load. I can only think of a few ways that bet would have gone wrong in the last 20 years – ATM is about the only technology that went the wrong way.
So, if users want more data throughput, and 802.11ac is set to dramatically increase throughput, what could possibly be wrong with it?
Well, if you make network equipment that requires that the data flow through a choke point on the network, 802.11ac will put the “choke” in “choke point.” Capacity of a centralized forwarding device is fixed when the device ships out to you, and it gets progressively less and less capable as the speed of Wi-Fi catches up with your forwarding plane. (If you do security on the centralized data forwarding plane, the constraint might be even worse.) Just as 802.11n drove the development of bigger and faster controllers, so will 802.11ac.
The second fear around 802.11ac comes from the march of technology. Among its many innovations is a much simpler specification for beamforming, and vastly improved applications for it. Although beamforming was first standardized in 802.11n, there are so many techniques for beamforming that it was too hard for product vendors to figure out which one would be most widespread. Therefore, no one approach took hold, and beamforming was not widely implemented.
With 802.11ac, we’ve learned our lesson as an industry, and settled on one primary approach (null data packets, if you want the jargon). With the prospect of a standardized beamforming technology that is widely available to anybody who uses state-of-the-art Wi-Fi silicon, beamforming will cease to be an area of strong competitive differentiation.
Opposing 802.11ac right now is like opposing 802.11n back in 2006 or 2007. You can say what you like, but networking rewards the swift and faster data rates always become mainstream.