5 Tips for Deploying 802.11ac | NETSCOUT

Up the Speed: 5 Tips for Deploying 802.11ac

by Karthik Krishnaswamy

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon is growing rapidly and creating capacity issues for enterprises that must now support more devices than ever. In addition, networks are already under strain from bandwidth-hungry applications like video and audio streaming. Given all the performance demands, anything that improves the capacity and end-user experience of wireless networks is likely to be embraced by network planners.

The next generation wireless LAN (WLAN) standard — 802.11ac — is on track to be the answer to these bandwidth issues. While it’s not yet ratified, the process is close enough that hardware vendors have already begun rolling out compatible access points (APs) and client radios. Now it’s time for enterprisesto start thinking about fully integrating 802.11ac into their networks. As with any network upgrade, careful planning will be necessary to properly deploy and take advantage of the 802.11ac capabilities without encountering any of the normal network renovation headaches.

Top 5 Tips for Deploying 802.11ac:

    1. Design for capacity
With an average corporate mobile device/user ratio approaching 3 (laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone), capacity has become a problem for wireless networks. Higher data rates introduced in 802.11ac can increase capacity and performance for clients, but only if the WLAN is carefully planned and deployed. Taking account of key performance factors such as increased channel width (80 and 160 MHz wide channels) and higher MCS is crucial to improving capacity.
    2. Ensure backwards compatibility with 802.11 a/n devices
Migration to 802.11ac will not happen overnight. There will always be a need to ensure 802.11ac deployment is backwards compatibile with legacy devices. Though 802.11ac is backwards compatible with 802.11n and 802.11a, performance for 802.11ac clients may be adversely impacted because of slower transmission rates by 802.11a/n clients. Identifying areas where legacy devices need to be supported and accordingly planning 802.11ac deployment will maximize performance for all clients.
    3. Survey your site prior to deployment
It’ll take a proper survey to assess the coverage of your current network, which you’ll need to do to determine if more APs are needed. Look for obstacles in the current environment when planning your update. Be sure to measure actual throughput of your existing network and assess if it meets your requirements. Is there a need to support bandwidth heavy applications in certain areas? Or is wireless access needed primarily for web browsing? Tool like NETSCOUT’ AirMagnet 8.6 can help speed this process and provide insight into these issues.
    4. Plan your network carefully, use survey results to limit rollout issues
Based on your user base and pre-deployment survey, carefully determine the number of APs needed and their placement. Also determine areas wherewider channels are needed to maximize throughput, and how they will be assigned to each AP to minimize co-channel interference and maximize performance.
    5. Validate after deployment
Determine how well your network is performing after deployment. Are there areas affected by poor coverage or channel interference? What about actual throughput? Determine 802.11ac network readiness based on your requirements. As always, the most important validation is a successful end-user experience.
Real world performance for end users has to be a major consideration when designing a 802.11ac deployment plan. Simply put, end users care very little about how many bars they see on their Wi-Fi connection icon; they want the network to “feel” fast, for web pages to load quickly and video to stream smoothly.

There are tools that allow network planners to see a graphical representation of their physical network environment and test various configurations of APs and network settings to see the likely impact on end user performance before any actual hardware is deployed. Up-front planning and scenario testing could be the difference between an 802.11ac rollout that goes smoothly and satisfies end users and one that requires a costly and time consuming post-deployment reconfiguration.


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