The Promise of 802.11ac Wireless Connectivity
802.11ac is a wireless network protocol that promises the throughput speeds the Internet of Things (IoT) will require making interconnected devices ubiquitous throughout homes and in organizations.
For instance, consumers at home will be able to order a pizza by talking to a voice-enabled device while they are watching a movie streamed through an online media platform. As they are chatting with friends through social media on their mobile phone their families or roommates will be walking around their abode listening to music downloaded onto a media station and piped to any of the rooms they walk into, shutting off — with the lights — upon exit. Refrigerators will automatically order from connected markets milk, orange juice, and steak as supplies run low.
Meanwhile, the kids in their bedroom will have donned their virtual reality headsets and will be playing multi-player games with challengers on the other side of the world. Feeds in the headsets project the latest Facebook messages from their friends, to whom they can respond with tablets in their laps.
Two challenges involved in getting all the smart appliances to work together and offer up a smorgasbord of online services are the level of network interoperability the devices will require and network speed; that is, the infrastructure that will enable the Internet of Things to actually work in concert. They will also require gear and supporting technologies that will make response times for the gadgets seem instantaneous.
802.11ac Rides to the Rescue
The key to the ability of households and organizations to bear the load of a great many disparate devices is a wireless device protocol labeled 802.11ac. The latest installment of 802.11ac is Wave 2, which the IEEE standards body rolled out in 2015. Real-world tests see 802.11ac throughput rates up to 6.93 Gbps (Gigabits per second). Compare that to the previous-generation protocol 802.11n, which maxes out at 600 Mbps (Megabits per second). Wireless routers based on the new 802.11ac protocol are even faster than those based on hard-wired networks running Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet offers maximum throughput of up to 1 Gbps.
In addition to being limited in speed, Ethernet solutions are limited by the number of physical connections routers can support and the amount of wiring that residents are willing to string in their homes.
In-home affordable wired Ethernet routers support a handful of connections that can include computers, printers, HDTV and perhaps a Blueray DVD player — not much more. Though users can certainly plug a laptop computer into an Ethernet connection, they will not be able to access the internet through the device without trailing wire; nor will they be able to plug in their tablet computer or access the internet through any other way than their local mobile phone service provider.
Ethernet bridges do exist, though, to take a single cable from the Ethernet router to a wireless 802.11ac router that realizes Ethernet throughputs for even the most mobile of devices.
The Wizardry of 802.11ac
Wireless routers that support 802.11ac have three big advantages over its predecessor, 802.11n: broader paths along which network traffic can travel; targeted signaling of wireless devices; and less interference from wireless signal noise.
The 802.11ac protocol affords networks a wider range of channels than its predecessor 802.11n and offers to “bond” available channels together to prop up voracious transmissions like one would find in a network of real-time devices like video surveillance cameras that connect with monitoring and smart devices.
802.11ac-compliant routers also directly transmit signals to roving devices, instead of using a shotgun approach to communications over a wide-area, which contributes greatly to signal degradation.
802.11ac-ready routers also automatically operate with devices in the 5Ghz frequency for devices ready for the relatively “clean” bandwidth. Most wireless devices — tablets, mobile phones, TVs, etc — operate in the much more crowded 2.4Ghz space, talking over each other and creating interference that also degrades WIFI performance.
The combination of the benefits promises that IoT will not only soon be a reality in the home, but in business, too.
Is There a Doctor in the House?
There are few sectors like healthcare in which the burgeoning expectation of IoT is fast becoming a reality. Hospitals adopt new equipment into their facilities weekly, it seems, all of which is increasingly expected to communicate with an installed pantheon of devices and monitors. Add to the network mix standard administrative computer equipment that schedules clients and doctors and appointments and logs records and makes them available to affiliate offices, and it is easy to see that networks are becoming increasingly overburdened.
Malcolm Green, Program Director at the Jersey City Medical Center, commented in an interview that staff also expected their personal tablets and smartphones to work on their center’s network, too.
The healthcare facility chose to install 802.11ac routers throughout their facilities to support the melange of devices that would otherwise cripple 802.11n wireless networks and be impossible for wired Ethernet networks to support.
Non-institutional devices like smartphones operate on the 2.4 Ghz “noisy” frequency, while mission-critical systems work on the cleaner 5Ghz band to optimize wireless performance.
A World of Choice
The advent of the Internet has spawned the Internet of Things: a welter of interconnected devices, machines, and supporting software are marching into our homes, hospitals, offices and factory floors. These new-era devices are demanding to be liberated from the tyranny of the wire, to be used anytime, in concert, and anywhere there is a wireless signal.
Wave 2 of the 802.11ac wireless protocol is already unshackling a great many devices, promising to improve the comfort of our homes and the quality of our lives.