Cisco Systems is expanding its portfolio of wireless products that support the 802.11ac WiFi standard, which officials said will help businesses address the growing demand for network bandwidth brought on by the growing number of employee-owned mobile devices and bandwidth-intensive workloads like high-definition video and Web conferencing.
Cisco's new products, announced April 30, come more than a year after the networking giant released the Aironet 3600 Series access point (AP), an appliance that was ready to support the 802.11ac standard. The company already has shipped hundreds of thousands of the access points, giving Cisco a broad range of customers that are ready to adopt the new standard, according to Chris Spain, vice president for product marketing for Cisco's Wireless Networking Group.
The vendor is rolling out the 802.11ac Wave 1 Module for the 3600 Series AP, which will give businesses that have the AP the option to migrate to 802.11ac wireless standard without having to invest in an entirely new appliance, giving them investment protection. The module will support WiFi speeds of up to 1.3G bps, about three times faster than the current 802.11n standard, Spain told eWEEK.
The module is shipping now to select customers
In addition, Cisco officials also announced plans to develop an 802.11ac Wave 2 module for the Aironet 3600 Series AP. The Wave 2 module will offer faster speeds—up to 6.9G bps—as well as MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple input multiple output) capabilities that will enable the AP to transmit to multiple clients at the same time. The MU-MIMO capabilities will give the AP "a much more switch-like behavior," Spain said.
The timeframe for enabling Wave 2 of the 802.11ac standard rollout will be determined by the development of silicon that will support the capabilities, he said. Spain estimated that there will be about an 18-month lag between Wave 1—which is starting now—and Wave 2.
Cisco's efforts with 802.11ac give early adopters the technology they need and future-proofs enterprises that will be embracing the standard down the road, according to Cisco officials.
The 802.11ac WiFi standard is designed to give businesses more speed and bandwidth, which is becoming increasingly important as more connected devices hit the network and users adopt more bandwidth-intensive applications. 802.11ac operates at the 5GHz level, as compared to other 802.11 standards, which run at 2.4GHz.
The need for more speed and bandwidth is becoming clearer, Spain said. Market transitions—including high-bandwidth applications, mobility, bring your own device (BYOD) and cloud computing—are putting more pressure on wireless networks. In its Visual Networking Index released in February, Cisco projected that worldwide mobile data traffic will increase thirteenfold by 2017, due in large part to the growth in the number of Internet connections. The vendor also said there will be 5.2 billion mobile users by that time, more than 10 billion mobile connections and growth in mobile video, which will represent 66 percent of worldwide mobile data traffic.
All that also is driving demand from users for more speed and bandwidth, and that demand will grow as more mobile devices that support 802.11ac hit the market, Spain said. Some businesses will wait before adopting 802.11ac, but eventually they'll make the move.
"I don't see enterprises limping along on old [802.11] a,b,g networks," he said. "They'll be upsetting their users way too much."
Spain said there are a growing number of industries that will be looking to adopt 802.11ac, including health care, service providers and education.
Other vendors also are preparing for the 802.11ac push. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Broadcom unveiled new WiFi chips, while such companies as NetGear and Buffalo Technology also talked about 802.11ac-enabled wireless products.
In addition, WildPackets on April 30 announced the Omni Distributed Analysis Platform 7.5, a wireless network analysis solution designed to capture and analyze 802.11ac traffic.