In an age and an industry where a year is an eternity, using a single technology for very nearly seven years is the equivalent of wearing your pants from 1986 or having the same room decor since 1971. Yet IEEE 802.11n networking standard served from 2007 until it was updated in 2013 to 802.11ac. Still, just because a new networking standard becomes available doesn't mean that network administrators are ready to toss out their existing wireless networking equipment, especially if it isn't that old and there's basically nothing wrong with it. After all, there are budgets to consider.

Just Because a New Standard Comes Out Doesn't Mean Everyone Runs Out Immediately to Purchase the Hardware

Hence, it's taken this long for businesses to jump on board with the new standard, and sales of WLAN equipment continued to be strong through the first quarter of 2016 as a result of businesses and network administrators upgrading to the 802.11ac standard. During the first quarter of 2016, wireless LAN hardware sales were 20 percent higher than during the same time period last year, according to a recent report. The report gave credit for the increase in sales to the newer 802.11 wireless equipment. This was done during a period of time when technology prices remained relatively stable, so price increases and/or inflation did not contribute to the rise in sales numbers.

802.11ac Equipment Sales are Strong Even as the Technology Sector Sees Relatively Flat Prices

The next wave of 802.11ac (Wave 2) will address some of the high-density issues that have plagued the 802.11n and 802.11 ac (Wave 1) deployments. While you will not achieve the speeds promised by manufacturers, you will see a marked improvement in terms of performance. If you're getting ready to purchase new wireless networking equipment, it's probably better to go ahead and invest in the Wave 2 stuff, so that your network won't need upgrading again as you onboard users and as devices continue to offer new technologies.

About 70 percent of all revenue from sales of access point equipment was related to sales of 802.11ac equipment. Another factor driving the sales of equipment to manage the newer standards is the fact that the Wi-Fi Alliance is in the final stages of preparing to release the Wave 2 specifications for the 802.11ac networking standard. The upcoming version is going to come with some truly advanced features and technologies like multi-user MIMO and beamforming, which is expected to deliver better wireless performance in environments with high-densities of users. That describes the majority of enterprises these days, as wireless becomes a more critical factor in workplace performance and customer service.

802.11ac Wave 2 is Another Factor Driving Strong WLAN Equipment Sales

The devices on the market today are still able to work with 802.11n wireless networks, but they can also work with the later 802.11ac Wave 1 and Wave 2 networks. That's why so many businesses have been able to wait from 2013 to now to upgrade their systems.

802.11ac Wave 2 equipment has already begun to appear in the marketplace, and at this point already accounts for about five percent of all access point sales. This is actually driving down the sales numbers for 802.11ac hardware, so it is possible that without the announcement regarding Wave 2 that 802.11ac hardware sales would have climbed even higher than the 20 percent.

802.11ac is nothing new. It is available in all smartphones, laptops, desktop PCs and even smart televisions on the market today. So, what caused the mind-boggling delay of six (almost seven) years in releasing the latest wireless standards? The primary benefit was that it gave developers time to significantly improve the speed.

However, it's important to remember that the 'theoretical' speeds usually touted by manufacturers (well, their marketing teams) is rarely what the network administrator is able to achieve in a real-world situation. In theory, 802.11 is supposed to be capable of 1200 Mbps, which equals 162.5 MBps. This is about three times the speed of the previous standard, 802.11n. In actuality, you can expect 802.11ac equipment to achieve about 720 Mbps (or 90 MBps) in a real world environment. Since the older 802.11n equipment actually only gets about 240 Mbps (or 30 MBps) in real world situations, the newer standard actually is three times faster. It's just much slower than you would believe if all you did was read the manufacturer's marketing materials.

How Network Administrators Can Prepare the Business for Upgrading to the New Standards

Before upgrading, consider a network site survey. This will tell you what your current needs are and assist in planning a new network that will take your business well into the future. BYOD environments are seeing an increase of two to three times the number of devices on their networks per employee, so don't just plan for one wireless device per worker. Many bring smartphones as well as tablets or laptops, all of which will need network access.

With the economy on shaky grounds and an election year underway, it's unlikely that Santa left a big, fat budget addition in your stocking last year for wireless networking upgrades. That's okay, because Christmas is getting ready to roll around again, and all of this election mêlée will (hopefully) be behind us. If your team needs to capitalize on the speed and density management of the latest standards, the first place to begin is with a network site survey. A survey will outline what you have currently, as well as what you need to take your network strongly into the future.

After the site survey pinpoints your needs, you can issue a Request for Proposal. Then, vendors will come to you with proposals, taking all of the legwork and busywork out of shopping for new equipment. Plus, vendors know that they'll be vying for your long-term business, so you're likely to be offered much better deals than you would be if you went vendor shopping on your own.