Wi-Fi Networks

With increases in speed and security accompanied by lower hardware costs, both short and long range Point-to-Multi-Point wireless networks are proliferating at a blinding speed. The short range wireless networks (up to 250 meters) that are widely known as WiFi or 802.11 networks are commonly found in schools, offices, hotels and “hot spots”, providing the convenience of broadband wireless access. Vista deploys larger scale Wi-Fi networks in locations such as schools, campuses, and offices.

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance representing Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) devices that are based on the IEEE 802.11 standards, and this is why Wi-Fi is usually used synonymously with IEEE 802.11. The original goal of the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance was to drive the adoption of a single worldwide standard for high-speed wireless local networking, and with this goal largely achieved the organization continues to promote interoperability of 802.11 wireless devices and grow the Wi-Fi market.

Wi-Fi networks provide the benefits of portable wireless communications, supporting uses such as:

  • Enabling students to use their own laptops for network and Internet access at school
  • Reducing Smartphone airtime bills by offloading data transactions onto Wi-Fi networks
  • Reducing labour costs incurred with network changes by eliminating the need for cabling
  • Attracting and retaining customers at fast food restaurants and cafes
  • Providing customers with the convenience of free Internet access at shopping malls

Access Points

Wireless communication devices that provide wireless connectivity to end user devices such as laptops are commonly referred to as Access Points. In its simplest form, a wireless network can be obtained by deploying a single appropriately configured Access Point (AP) that connects to a wired LAN. This is true of most home-based wireless networks, where a home owner installs and configures a wireless AP (usually a wireless router) that connects to the Internet via a cable or DSL modem, and provides wireless Internet connectivity to one or more end user devices such as home PC’s, printers, wireless PDA’s, Smartphones, or gaming systems.

Access Point technology has evolved enough that they now can support data transfer speeds that rival and exceed the performance of many wired networks. This means that the performance of wired networks is now available with the flexibility of wireless, and now supported with highly secure encryption algorithms to ensure that networks are secure.

AP’s are designed to comply to IEEE 802.11 standards to ensure that the hardware and software that they use will provide reliable performance and interoperability with endpoint (end user) devices such as laptop modems. Over time the standard evolves to introduce new capability, higher performance, and new functionality to improve the experience of users. The latest standard version is 802.11ac (released in December of 2013) that specifies design requirements for higher data rates and increased resilience for communications in poorer radio environments.

IEEE 802.11ac

The latest IEEE 802.11ac standard took a substantial leap forward to provide end users with much higher wireless data rates. This was achieved with techniques including Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) antenna arrays and with 802.11ac AP radios only operating in the  wider  5 GHz Wi-Fi band it has the room to use channels of 80 MHz bandwidth. MIMO technology allows an AP to increase data rates in both directions and increase the capability to mitigate problems of temporary signal blockage and interference due to signal reflections. Additionally, multiple antennas enable the use of more than one radio so that manufacturers now produce AP’s that support multiple simultaneous data streams.

Previous to 802.11ac the largest channel bandwidth was 40 MHz, so with an 80 MHz channel the data carrying capacity is increased substantially. With 3x3 MIMO (3 transmit and 3 receive antennas) and 80 MHz channels 802.11ac AP’s can achieve up to 433.3 Mbps per antenna, or 1300 Mbps per AP. This technology is referred to as Wave 1 of the 802.11ac standard. Most early Wave 1 802.11ac AP’s deployed with 2 radios – one at 2.4 GHz and one at 5 GHz - so that they can support devices that only use a/b/g technology that only use the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band, while simultaneously supporting a/n/ac devices in the 5 GHz band.

Even with the capacity increases achieved with 802.11ac Wave 1, the 802.11ac standard accommodates higher performance with even wider channels of up to 160 MHz and more MIMO streams. 802.11ac Wave 2 is expected to support the 160 MHz channels and up to 4 MIMO streams when it is available, with anticipated data rates of over 3 Gbps.

More future-proof AP’s, such as those provided by Xirrus, have software upgradeable AP’s so that now they support devices on both operating frequencies, but in a few years when there are very few devices operating at 2.4 GHz the 2.4 GHz radio can be easily configured to a 5 GHz radio and substantially increase the capacity of the AP. Additionally, Xirrus provides AP arrays with up to 16 radios providing extremely high capacity Wi-Fi access, but with added capability such that when 802.11ac Wave 2 radios are available, some or all of the internal replaceable radios can be swapped out for Wave 2 radios thereby providing higher capacity.

Compared to consumer grade AP’s, enterprise grade AP’s are characterized by much higher reliability, greater manageability including remote management (considering installations of 10’s or 100’s of AP’s), greater functionality for performance management and network management, and higher security. If an organization relies on Wi-Fi for any network functionality critical to operations, an enterprise grade AP is the way to go.

With the performance and functionality now available with 802.11ac access points, organizations can now rely on Wi-Fi for their networking needs and forego the costs and hassles associated with routing cables whenever office configuration changes are needed. This along with the capacity provided by 802.11ac Wave 1 and the capacity expected with Wave 2 can help IT managers and executives plan their Wi-Fi deployments for growth by future-proofing now.

Call us toll free at 1.800.452.1295 or email us to discuss your Wi-Fi network requirements and a solution that is optimized for your specific needs.


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