Demand for wireless bandwidth continues to increase, but the industry is keeping up, with innovations like 802.11ac and its current Wave 2 of solutions
The march of technology is relentless and no more so than in the area of wireless. Wi-Fi standards have continued to add more bandwidth capability, yet the sector has advanced while remaining backwards compatible.
One of the most most widely-deployed versions of Wi-Fi currently is 2009’s I802.11n, which uses multiple antennas to increase data rates. It improves network throughput over the two previous standards, 802.11a and 802.11g, from a maximum of 54 Mbit/s to 600 Mbit/s. It can be used in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands.
The latest ‘standard’ is 802.11ac, often referred to as ‘Gigabit Wi-Fi’, which provides another leap in performance. The 802.11ac standard is a set of physical layer enhancements for higher throughput in the 5-GHz band and uses techniques pioneered in 802.11n, including more antennas, wider channels and more spatial streams. It is the next step forward after 802.11n, along a path of backwards compatibility that starts with 11b, progressing to 11a/g, then 11n, and now 802.11ac.
Ratified in 2013, 802.11ac offers higher throughput in the 5 GHz band. It is also said to extend the battery life of products by more than 30%.
First wave products hit the market in 2013 and delivered a dramatic improvement in speed, along with being backwards compatible. Wave 1 products deliver a three-fold increase in performance driven by a doubling of channel bandwidth to 80 MHz, the addition of a more efficient 256-QAM encoding technique and explicit transmit beamforming to improve signal quality.
The main features of 11ac are extensions of the physical layer wireless techniques used in 802.11n, including using multiple antennas at the transmitter and receiver to exploit multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) for parallel delivery of multiple spatial streams.
Most of the features extend the limits of 802.11n, adding more antennas, more spatial streams, wider RF channels and higher-level coding.
New mechanisms are also defined, notably multi-user MIMO where an access point transmits simultaneously to multiple clients.
The potential benefits of 11ac are clear, but many enterprise have been taking a wait-and-see approach typical with any new technology. The wait may have been worth it as, not content with simply introducing a new standard, the market is now bracing itself for Wave 2 of 802.11ac.
This builds on Wave 1 with some significant enhancements. It supports speeds of up to 2.34 Gbps (up from 1.3 Gbps) in the 5 GHz bans. It supports multi-user multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO). It offers the option of using 160 MHz wide channels for greater performance and of using a fourth spatial stream for greater performance. It can run in additional 5 GHz bands around the world.
One of the first Wave 2 products to hit the market was Aruba Networks’,320 Series access point (AP) around one year ago. The vendor claims it is the industry’s first 802.11ac Wave 2 access point with dynamic multi-user, multiple input/multiple output (MU-MIMO) grouping.
What is driving the emergence of new standards like 802.11ac and the further development of Wave 2 variants so soon after Wave 1 is the need for more speed.
“Backhauling and a seamless handover are the main challenges that should be addressed during the design phases of a modern Wi-Fi infrastructure,” says Marwan BinShakar, vice president, mobile access network & operations, du. “Guaranteed quality of service for certain smart applications is another challenge that requires carefully designed and specific features. Du has proven its Wi-Fi capabilities and its ability to meet these different application requirements through a variety of partnerships with a number of stakeholders. Du was selected as a strategic partner to provide Wi-Fi services for smart Dubai.
“We have also launched Wi-Fi UAE, a country-wide initiative to provide Wi-Fi access to the public, in more than 250 hotspots and additional hotspots are expected to be added this year as well. Also, our smart Wi-Fi services are integrated with smart palm, smart shelter and smart bus.“
Whatever the technology underpinning its infrastructure, a modern Wi-Fi network must not only be fast, but also be secure. Operators may also have to provide guaranteed quality of service, especially for key applications and in BYOD environments.
“Policy preparation, security, control, training, network capability, and resiliency are some of the critical issues,” says Ala’a Al-Bawab, regional manager for public sector and oil & gas, Cisco UAE.
“This puts the [organisation] under intense pressure to create and implement policies and deploy the appropriate supporting technology, while controlling costs. The rapid increase in the number of devices connecting to networks in BYOD environments, guest access, video surveillance, and the Internet of Things (IoT) adds a lot to the bandwidth demands that IT is trying to address.”
Du’s BinShakar adds: “Operators have to consider the technological challenges presented by BYOD, and enhance the customer experience by reviewing internet capacity, and providing an all in one service that is cost effective in order to gain customer trust.
“At du, we engineer our Wi-Fi services based on an end-to-end design and optimisation approach to provide seamless user experience regardless of the interference, congestion, and network topology.”
Naturally, security concerns will proliferate as more and more people access networks, especially with their own devices. “The Wi-Fi access infrastructure must be such that only authorised users can gain access to network resources – in this case it would be wise to make use of 802.1x Enterprise Authentication to increase data security and grant access to only authorised users,” says Marie Ma, director of product marketing at Comba Telecom.
“Meanwhile, multiple SSID and virtual LAN can be used to logically separate different users and the different domains they access. The network will also require a single gateway to act as a central point to control the bandwidth and user traffic to avoid user misconduct. Isolation of user traffic can prevent hacking between users and firewall protection can be employed to prevent misconduct from either inside or outside the campus network.”
Already, major deployments of 80211.ac are being carried out in the Middle East. Dubai’s Steigenberger Hotel (see box) is deploying the technology within its premises to improve the guest Wi-Fi experience.
Yas Mall, the centrepiece of the Yas Island tourism and leisure development in Abu Dhabi ihas deployed 802.11ac across its 2.5 million square feet of space.
The mall opted for a solution from Aruba, including access points (APs), mobility controllers, guest management and reporting and monitoring tools. Together, the solution is designed to provide visitors with secure, seamless, high-speed, wireless internet connectivity across the entirety of the mall’s property.
The implementation was carried out by MDS Systems Integration, a UAE-based system integration partner of Aruba, part of Hewlett-Packard Enteprise. Unique aspects of the project are the Arubas 7200 series Mobility Controller, which eliminates manual configuration of individual APs and automates software updates of all APs on the network. Also noteworthy is the use of ClientMatch technology to automatically shift mall visitors between access points to ensure the best quality of service.
With our increasing appetite for video on the move, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the eventual emergence of the Internet of Things, the strain on the network is only going to get greater. Whether its Wave 1 or Wave 2, expect to see more and more deployments of 802.11ac on wireless networks across the Middle East.
Dubai’s Steigenberger Hotel adopts Aruba Wi-Fi
The Steigenberger Hotel in Business Bay has deployed a property-wide, high speed 802.11ac wireless Internet network from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.
The aim is to enable guests to enjoy free Wi-Fi across 365 rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants and other public areas.
“Our chain of hotels sets high standards for all services including Wi-Fi as this is now a factor that greatly contributes to our guests’ positive experience. Especially in the Middle East where tech-savvy travellers are equipped with an average of three smart devices, the need for high-speed wireless services is imperative,” said Dinto Joseph, director of IT at the Steigenberger Hotel in Business Bay Dubai.
Aruba’s 103 series wireless access points (APs) were selected to maximise mobile device performance whilst minimising interference from cellular networks. For the higher bandwidth requirements and connection densities of the meeting rooms, restaurants and public areas, Aruba 200 series APs have been installed; these gigabit Wi-Fi capable APs support 802.11ac. Similarly, Aruba’s 270 series 802.11ac capable APs were used to provide coverage in the outdoor areas while remaining tolerant to harsh weather conditions.
The hotel has also utilised two Aruba 7200 series mobility controllers to simplify management of its Wi-Fi network.
“With 422 APs across our property it is labour intensive to manually configure and troubleshoot each physical device. This would also undoubtedly cause inconvenience to guests whose comfort is our highest priority,” said Joseph.
“The mobility controllers allow us to centrally manage the entire Wi-Fi network, automatically update APs and ensure everything is running smoothly with the minimum amount of time and effort.”
The Wi-Fi installation has been well received, and now Steigenberger Hotel intends to utilise the Wi-Fi infrastructure as a platform to deploy guest fronting Wi-Fi enabled smart devices for room management and other services to drive guest enablement.