Before Upgrading to 802.11ac - Determine Remaining Usefulness of Your 2.4GHz Network


It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to upgrading to 802.11ac. It's likely that there are pockets of .11n on 2.4GHz that are working adequately, so why touch it? If the spectrum is relatively clean in some areas, then why worry? By delaying your upgrade to 802.11ac in certain buildings, floors or areas for just 12 to 18 months, it may be possible to save thousands. For those of you who only have a fraction of your budget to spend on wireless, this is a meaningful savings. But how do you know when is the right time to upgrade? Sales and marketing people are working hard to put forth the qualitative case. But if you had an actual quantitative analysis of your own network, then you would be armed with the knowledge you need to make the right decision at the right time.

To execute such a strategy you'll need a system that can continually measure the performance of your WLAN network so that you can objectively formulate a proper 802.11ac rollout plan. As you are well aware, the 802.11ac standard uses 5GHz only, shrinking your coverage, thereby requiring adequate time to plan and prepare. For this reason alone, phasing in 802.11ac in a prudent manner makes sense. Therefore, tracking the performance of your 2.4GHz network and using the data to forecast its remaining usefulness can be a valuable planning resource.

While test instruments have their useful purpose, they are a point solution, which means they are not integrated with a larger system providing context and the larger perspective needed for strategic decision making. For example it's difficult for instruments to track and trend performance in a consistent and scientific manner allowing you to proactively monitor the degradation of the network as the dynamic stresses placed upon it increase over time.

The process of performance management starts with setting service level targets for key performance indicators, such as WLAN availability, accessibility and download throughput. For example, you may start planning your upgrade to 802.11ac access points in areas where the throughput KPI consistently fails to meet your service level target for the 2.4GHz network of 5Mbps. Or, you may even want to survey your people before determining what the target for acceptable performance should be. If your WLAN performance management system indicates that a certain area is consistently providing 3Mbps of throughput performance for users, but that when you talk to folks in the area you find that they are quite satisfied with the service based on their use cases, then you might even lower your service level target to 2Mbps.  With this kind of proactive WLAN management, you may be months or even years away from an actual Wi-Fi performance issue.

This is the power of a system of WLAN performance measurement and management. With the data in hand, you need not succumb to your vendor's calls to upgrade to 802.11ac until you know for a fact you need it and you are ready for it.

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