Aruba is throwing their hat in the ring on the next wave of 802.11ac with yesterday's announcement of their 320 series access points. The initial wave one release of 802.11ac gear enjoyed a solid 3x increase in throughput over 802.11n gear, as wireless data transfer rates of 1.3 Gbps in the 5 GHz band became possible. Wave two and Aruba’s 320 series looks to further increase that ceiling to over 1.7 Gbps, and while the extra 400 Mbps may not seem particularly significant, there are a couple unique features to the wave two tech that give these APs a significant competitive advantage when it comes to serving the exponential expansion of devices looking for room on crowded wireless networks.
While we’ve grown used to “MIMO” (multiple in; multiple out) as a transmitting method since the adoption of 802.11n back in 2009, 802.11ac wave two devices will take advantage of multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). This transmitting method allows each antenna on the AP to transmit data to different MU-MIMO capable devices simultaneously, a critically fundamental improvement on every previous transmission method, which could only transfer data to one client at a time. With the emergence of WiFi in more and more devices, from tablets, to phones, to watches, to HVAC systems, and other consumer appliances, MU-MIMO transfer methods are going to be essential in servicing all the different signal requests bombarding wireless networks. With four pairs of antennas, one Aruba 320-grade AP with multi-user MIMO will be able to handle the same device capacity as three enterprise grade wave one 802.11ac access points. While only MU-MIMO compatible client devices will be allowed to take advantage of this extra capacity, applying this compatibility is often as simple as a firmware upgrade for client devices and likely not a substantial barrier to overcome.
When MU-MIMO devices do start hitting the landscape in mass, Aruba’s patented ClientMatch technology on the 320 series units will detect these devices on the network, and direct them to MU-MIMO capable APs, ensuring that data transmissions are optimized on the network.
More spatial streams, please?
“Coming right up!” says Aruba. While wave one APs have been pretty much stuck at three spatial streams, Aruba’s 320 line will offer a fourth. This essentially amounts to a 25% boost to throughput for ALL devices flowing through the AP, and that’s not even counting the capacity management made possible by MU-MIMO.
802.11ac wave two on the horizonAruba’s 320 series isn’t the only wave two AP solution shipping this summer. Rukus was actually first to market back in April with their Zone Flex R710 unit. It’s expected to be available within this quarter, and touts the same data transfer rates as Aruba’s 320 series. Cisco will likely have a wave two AP out this year, too, with mounting pressure to keep up with the competition. While the release of the next generation of 802.11ac is exciting, it is unlikely to be fully appreciated until later in 2015 and even 2016, as devices capable of multi-user MIMO will need time to get out into the hands of consumers. We certainly look forward to seeing how these devices perform in our testing environments and will post further updates as they become available.