The first consumer-grade access points running the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol began hopping last summer, and IT-grade 802.11ac wireless gear is now appearing. Apple appears poised to include 802.11ac in Macs expected to be released this summer, if clues in beta versions of OS X are to be believed. PC, tablet, and smartphone makers will follow soon.
What's the story about 802.11ac? It brings several advantages that should promote fast consumer adoption: lower battery use when Wi-Fi is engaged in computers and mobile devices, faster throughput, extended signal range (I can personally attest to this), and less bandwidth contention than with other Wi-Fi gear. Those advances will help businesses, too, but IT will gain another reason to want to adopt 802.11ac, says Lisa Phifer, a network consultant at Core Competence: greater density, meaning more simultaneous connections per access point.
Still, both Phifer and Bob Egan, principal at the Seraphim Group consultancy and one of the original 802.11 standard's designers, say enterprise adoption of 802.11ac will likely take five years, even as home users and small businesses move faster.
Why the lag in larger businesses? One reason is that because 802.11ac can carry four times the traffic, IT will need to do much more than just replace access points. The backhaul needs to be bulked up as well, Egan says, both the internal backbone network and the connections to the Internet. That affects routers, switches, and more.