Riding the wireless wave

As wireless networks have become part of the fabric of government business, agencies are discovering more uses for wireless technology. Not only has the adoption of mobile devices throughout government increased the use of government WiFi networks, but video traffic, Voice over Wireless (Vo-Fi), rapid file transfer and even wireless Machine to Machine (M2M) data connections all require faster connections and greater capacity.

Until recently, the state-of-the-art wireless standard was 802.11n, a significant improvement over the original standard, which offered 1-to-2 megabits per second throughput. 802.11n’s throughput is 300 Mbps to 450 Mbps. But with wireless networks strained to capacity, the need for much faster throughput and better range and reception is critical for government networks. 802.11ac, introduced in 2013, is as much as three times faster than 802.11n. It operates in the 5 GHz spectrum instead of the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which tends to have less interference from other WiFi networks in the area. It is backwards-compatible with not only 802.11n, but 802.11b and g.

It makes sense to upgrade now versus later; not only does a move to 802.11ac future-proof the WiFi network for further advances, but it lets agencies take advantage of the additional speed and capacity now. According to ABI Research, more new mobile handsets will incorporate 802.11ac than 802.11n by early 2015.

By the end of 2014, the next wave of 802.11ac—called “Wave 2” —will be released. Wave 2 is expected to have throughput of up to nearly 1.9 Gbps and a new feature, called multi-user MIMO, will let multiple devices access separate data streams simultaneously from one access point.

Within three or four years, expect yet another leap forward with 802.11ax, which will improve on MIMO by using frequency-division multiplexing to separate dozens or even hundreds of smaller substreams, each with different frequencies, to increase the spectral efficiency and maximum throughput of each stream. Early predictions put speeds at more than 10 Gbps of data speed in the 5 GHz band. 802.11ax could be particularly useful in increasing throughput in densely populated areas or areas of dense WiFi concentration.

Different WiFi versions for different needs

While speed and capacity for mainstream WiFi applications keep improving, there are other WiFi standards either already available or coming soon that improve speed and capacity for specific use cases. For example, 802.11ad, also known as WiGig, is aimed at helping intelligent devices with direct line of site to each other through a lightning-fast WiFi network in the 60 GHz range. With speeds of up to 7 Gbps, WiGig is optimal for applications like wireless storage, wireless docking and edge caching (the ability to distribute content from a local web server to caching servers that are closer to the end user). Adoption of WiGig is poised for huge growth; according to a report from MarketsandMarkets, the WiGig market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 111 percent from 2014 to 2019.

For agencies that use sensors for functions like intelligence, surveillance, healthcare, data center management, smart street lights and smart meters, the upcoming 802.11ah standard will improve transmission speed and range. Set to debut around 2016, 802.11h will use 900 MHz spectrum to provide a throughput of 150 kbps to 40 Mbhs, making it ideal for long-range communications that can use low power, such as sensor networks, M2M communications, and backhaul networks for sensors.