Next-gen WLAN: What you need to know about 802.11ac and why 2.5 Gbps is critically important

WLAN Next Gen blogWireless data access is everywhere and quickly becoming a staple service in our connected lives, as 3/4G, LTE and WLAN are often our primary communication interfaces. Anyone who has ever exceeded their data plan or who prematurely drained their phone’s battery knows WiFi is the preferred network when it’s available. However, WiFi access is not without its challenges, both from the user’s perspective and the enterprise or service provider’s point of view.

Problems around logging in, roaming, performance in congested areas, and security plague users who simply want to download a podcast in the airport, find a nearby restaurant, or watch a video of their nephew on a skateboard. Meanwhile, access control, authentication, and quality of service haunt enterprise and service providers who are forced to accommodate today’s bring-your-own-device users who seek high-speed connectivity, but who may be encroaching on paid customers or private WLANs.

Adding to these issues is the new WLAN 802.11ac specification. Instead of sharing a few hundred Mbps of bandwidth among all customers, each user may have that much dedicated bandwidth for themselves! Sounds like a great thing right?  Certainly.  But with all of that new wireless bandwidth, the wired connection from the small access point back to the main network quickly becomes the bottleneck. This link is typically an older copper twisted-pair cable rated to support 1 Gbps.  New 802.11ac WLAN access points can easily drive greater than 1 Gbps speeds and will likely support well over 2 Gbps.  Enter new 2.5 and 5 Gbps Ethernet. This unique, single-twisted pair copper wire technology supports the increased performance that 802.11ac links will require, but without the need to call a contractor to install expensive new cabling.

Another related issue of this higher performance 11ac WLAN traffic is that the access points need to get smarter.  Passing all of wireless user data back over the wire to the master controller for decisions about traffic type, quality of service or even access permission will quickly force that appliance to become not only bigger, but much more expensive.

Next-generation 11ac WLAN AP processors will need to deliver 2-4x the performance of earlier access points to solve the traffic jam of a centralized controller making all of the decisions.  This allows the network designer to push the initial use access, filtering and quality checkpoints out to the edge of the network, increasing performance and relieving pressure on the central controller.  Needless to say, QorIQ processors, with leading market share in enterprise and service provider access points, are again out in front, supporting both 2.5 and 5 Gbps Ethernet over legacy copper cabling.  The QorIQ T1 processor family also gives 2-10x performance over earlier generation products for a lot more intelligence in the WLAN access point.

In essence, the next generation of 802.11ac access points will give more dedicated user performance, have fatter 2.5 or 5 Gbps copper pipes, and will make smarter decisions closer to your phone, laptop or tablet.  In the future as you stream your Ultra HD video without a hitch, thank the smart access point and the new high-speed 2.5 and 5 Gbps Ethernet!


Eric Dudley
Eric Dudley
Eric Dudley is a Senior Marketing Manager in the Digital Networking group. With over 15 years in marketing and business development Eric has a passion for driving innovative embedded devices. Eric delivers multicore SoC solutions designed for differentiated branch routers, virtual CPE, performance-class residential gateways, WLAN access points and industrial networking applications. Eric is a Founding Member of the NBASE-T multi-rate Ethernet alliance and served as the Marketing Chairman for Eric studied International Business at California State University, Chico and Computer Science and Technical Marketing at University of Californai Berkeley. Eric is a new scoutmaster in Austin, Texas, teaching budding pyromaniacs the finer points of rocket building.

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