Say Goodbye to 802.11ac Wave 1.5

With the explosion of mobile devices entering the workforce and every imaginable vertical, it’s no wonder that Wi-Fi is quickly becoming a must-have technology for customers. It’s no longer a matter of buying some wireless equipment off the shelf at a Best Buy, customers today need the features and speeds which are part of enterprise-level equipment.

If you follow the Wi-Fi industry, you have probably heard by now that enterprise grade 802.11ac chipsets from the chipset manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Broadcom have been arriving on the market in what has been dubbed “waves” or phases. Enterprise wave 1 802.11ac access points started shipping in the second half of 2013 and the majority of the 802.11ac access points on the market today can be considered wave 1. What have been called wave 2 802.11ac access points started shipping in the second half of 2015 but full featured versions weren’t expected until the 2nd half of 2016.

Wave 2 promised to add:

  • Data rates upwards of 3.5 Gbps vs. 1 Gbps
  • 160 MHz channels vs 80 MHz (like more lanes on the highway)
  • Multi User MIMO (MU-MIMO) (AP can transmit to multiple clients at the same time (up to 4)
  • Standards based Transmit Beamforming (TxBF) (focus radio frequency energy at the client)

Like I mentioned above there had been a handful of what had been called wave 2 11ac access point product launches in the second half of 2015 and thereafter, but some may debate if they were truly wave 2. Some might call them “wave 1.5!” All can probably agree that they were not yet fully featured.

  • They didn’t yet have support for the promised 4x4:4 Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO).
  • They didn’t yet support 160 MHz channels, although the usefulness of this in the enterprise is likely limited to a remote office with just one AP (given you only have one 160 MHz non-overlapping channel in the US and need DFS support). The other killer app for 160 MHz channels? The speed test!

A true wave 2 AP includes concurrent high performance 2.4 and 5 GHz client servicing radios, as well as a dedicated dual band scanning/security radio for DynamicRF Radio Resource Management (RRM) and Wireless Intrusion Detection (WIDS), and an integrated Bluetoooth Low Energy (BLE) radio. Having a dedicated scanning/security radio ensures the client servicing radios do not waste precious airtime performing off-channel background scanning.

Another requirement is a multi-gigabit Ethernet uplink port that scales up to 2.5 or 5 Gbps but is also backwards compatible to 100/1000Base-T. This combined with an additional Gigabit Ethernet uplink port allows managed service providers and enterprises alike to leverage their existing wired infrastructure today and multi-gigabit in the future.

IHS research shows that up to 10% of access points shipped today are 802.11ac Wave 2 compliant. With a surge in demand and the Wi-Fi Alliance announcement of an 11ac wave 2 certification program for interoperability and many 11ac wave 2 clients beginning to emerge, the time is now to jump on the 11ac wave 2 bandwagon.

About the author

Kenneth Fernandes has 17 years experience in networking and security. Since 2007, he has been focused totally on wireless networking and security. Kenneth currently serves as a Product Manager at ADTRAN where he oversees the wireless product lines such as the Bluesocket virtual Wireless LAN (vWLAN). Kenneth is considered an “engineer’s engineer” by his peers and an authority on Wi-Fi technology. Based out of the Boston, Massachusetts area, Kenneth considers himself a Wi-Fi Enthusiast and is passionate about Wi-Fi. Follow him on Twitter at @wifiblogdotcom and at

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