Just like the cellular network evolved from 2G to 4G and 5G soon, also wireless networks for public usage evolved. You may have seen the WIFI standard written as 802.11a/b/g/n. Now most of the access points that ship are marked 802.11ac capable. The question is what does it really bring? And is it really worth the upgrade?
What you need to know
The earlier 802.11a standards operates in the 5GHz spectrum; this means it provided higher speeds (up to 54Mbps). The downside is that because the frequency is so high, it is more sensible to interference, obstacle and can only cover short distances. The 802.11b/g which was more widespread ranged from 11Mbps to 54Mbps and operates in 2.4GHz spectrum. It could cover long distances with cheap hardware. The most widespread standard in use today is the 802.11n standard which made speed up to 600Mbps possible by taking advantage of MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. MIMO allowed multiple simultaneous connection between the radio (access point) and the endpoint devices, thus allowing unprecedented speed and signal reconstruction.
The newest standard available to use is the 802.11ac standard. This new technology allows wireless devices to communicate at speeds ranging from 450Mbps to 1300Mbps by using dual band technology (combining 2.4GHz and 5GHz). This means that you get the best of both worlds depending on the circumstances. If you purchased a device in 2017 or 2018, chances are they already support this new standard. All you need to do to experience the bump in speed is to upgrade your Access Points.
Why is this necessary?
Well wireless is a shared space and the speeds mentioned are theoretical. This means you may never get the maximum speed specified. With our handheld and portable computers requiring bigger bandwidth and faster speed, it is paramount to provide the best possible data rates to enable applications to perform efficiently. You need to keep in mind that a radio broadcasting at 300Mbps is sharing a total of 300Mbps to all its connected stations (or clients) creating a lot of contention; and that is without considering noise, reflection and other interfering parameters. Suffice it to say if your users depend on wireless connectivity for sharing resources amongst each other, access office shared resources and connect to the internet, the last thing you want to present a bottleneck is your wireless infrastructure. With 802.11ac your users will experience cable-like connectivity on wireless connected devices and I am sure that will not displease you.
What to keep in mind
Dot11 ac radio equipment are still fairly expensive and not all your existing devices will be able to take advantage of the new technology. The standard is backward compatible, so all your old devices will be able to connect using their slower speed. You need to make sure you choose between directional and omnidirectional antennas depending on the required coverage and the environment. Seamless roaming is fully supported so watch your signal overlapping ratio.
The IEEE is already working on the next standard that will provide single stream connectivity up to 3.5Gbps and a maximum of 14Gbps with multiplexing. This will help further in cellular network offload and better connectivity for our data hungry devices.