The gigabit Wi-Fi, or 802.11ac standard, has not yet been ratified, but that hasn't stopped networking vendors from unveiling 802.11ac access points.
Last autumn, Cisco, Xirrus Inc. and Meru Inc. introduced new wireless LAN access points and arrays that could be easily upgraded from 802.11n to 802.11ac. Cisco is now announcing the general availability of its new 802.11ac Wave 1 expansion module for its premium access point -- the Aironet 3600.
The plug-and-play module will allow customers to upgrade to 802.11ac quickly on their existing Aironet 3600 access points, said Chris Spain, vice president of marketing for Cisco, in an interview. Network administrators will be able to avoid the costs associated with ripping and replacing infrastructure, while helping to save the battery life of mobile devices on their network.
"We have been shipping the Aironet 3600 access point -- which can accommodate one module -- ahead of the ratification of the standard for 18 months," Spain said. "The Wave 1 pluggable module upgrades the user's  access point from 802.11n to 802.11ac."
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The new module will support Wi-Fi speeds of up to 1.3 Gbps, enabling better performance for bandwidth-intensive traffic and applications -- like high-definition and streaming content – as well as for mobile traffic from the notorious bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. The Wave 1 module empowers the IT department to decide where to increase bandwidth without replacing hardware, Spain said.
"The modularity allows IT to put advanced features like advanced security or a [Wi-Fi] upgrade right in the access point easily … and it will take IT a fraction of the time to enable an 802.11.ac upgrade, versus swapping out the entire access point infrastructure for new ones," he said.
Cisco also announced that its Wave 2 module will be available and shipping in early 2014. The Wave 2 will support the second part of the 802.11ac standard, including multi-user, multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) technology for switch-like performance in a wireless LAN infrastructure and higher bandwidth support with additional spatial streams and channels, Spain said.
"The modularity of the 3600 access point future-proofs [the customer] for the next wave of Wi-Fi technology, so customers don't have to make any decisions about upgrading right now," he said.