Planning for 11ac Wave Two and Beyond
As the Wi-Fi Alliance celebrates the one-year anniversary of 802.11ac certification, one naturally starts thinking about what the future will bring. Today, more than 670 entries appear on the Alliance’s list of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac products, including over 250 smartphones and 170 enterprise APs. ABI predicts that by 2015, 45% of all consumer Wi-Fi APs will support 11ac.
However, today’s Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac products have been tested against Wave One requirements. Specifically, Wave One APs can use 3x3 SU-MIMO to more than double speeds delivered by typical Wi-Fi CERTIFIED n APs, reaching maximum data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps. But Wave One isn’t simply about raw speed – it’s about increasing WLAN capacity, supporting higher-density clients, and improving rate-over-range for all.
So, why should we look forward to 11ac Wave Two, and what differences are we likely to see? According to Kevin Robinson, Director of Program Marketing at Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi Alliance members have been collaborating to determine which features should be added ever since the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac certification program launched a year ago.
“The [Wave Two] program is planned for launch next year,” he said.” Among the advanced features we expect to certify in the second release of the program are MU-MIMO, 160 MHz channels, and 4 spatial streams which will increase speed and capacity. Additionally, the second release of the program will include Extended 5 GHz Support, supporting an expanded set of channels in the 5 GHz band, enabling improved performance by spreading the load of Wi-Fi traffic across more channels.”
Some Wave Two advances are incremental, such as doubling channel width and testing an additional spatial stream. Others will require more preparation. For example, enterprises will need to start scanning additional 5 GHz frequencies to detect and prevent rogues operating on new channels, even if their own APs do not yet make use of those channels.
But the biggest game-changer will be multi-user (MU) MIMO, whereby a single AP radio can transmit/receive simultaneously with up to 4 clients. Clearly, this change has potential to quadruple the number of traffic streams utilizing a given frequency, requiring more “eyes on the sky” to monitor Wi-Fi activity, enforce policy, and prevent misuse or attack.
Nonetheless, Wi-Fi security fundamentals will not change for Wave Two. “The emergence of 11ac Wave Two, 11ah [WiGig CERTIFIED at 60 GHz], and 11ax [11ac’s even higher-density successor] doesn’t necessitate changes in the current industry-standard security protocols,” said Robinson. “Wi-Fi Alliance has a strong commitment to security and all certified products must support WPA2. Naturally, our organization and industry monitor the security landscape closely and pursue new technologies when it makes sense (most recently, we added management frame protection to WPA2)...“
This suggests that Wi-Fi security professionals should be preparing for the future by adding capacity today. As the number of client devices and spatial streams and concurrent sessions grow, the ability to “listen well” and automatically focus in on truly impactful events will become even more critical. While background scanning by APs can still play a role, more radios dedicated to wireless intrusion detection and prevention will be required to keep up with the growing workload. Moreover, the rising volume and diversity of Wi-Fi clients demands the ability to automatically fingerprint new kinds of devices, spot new kinds of threats, and quickly take appropriate action.
Planning for growth today will leave your organization well-positioned to adequately monitor and secure Wave Two when that next generation of 11ac products emerges roughly a year from now.