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Networking's humblebrag moment: Can we use all that 802.11ac bandwidth?

Whenever a new network standard emerges, we wonder how we'd ever use all that capacity -- and soon eat our words. Here we go again with 802.11ac bandwidth in Wave 2.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Network Evolution: Will 802.11ac speeds redefine network architectures?:

Are you familiar with humblebrag?

It's a term that signifies false modesty—a boast poorly masquerading as self-deprecation—which enjoyed its moment in the sun a few years ago when a TV writer coined the term and later compiled Twitter's best humblebrags in a book. The act of humblebragging isn't a new social phenomenon, but the level of obnoxiousness it evokes has been amplified by social media.

You've surely rolled your eyes at comments or tweets like these before: "I'm always getting stopped for speeding just because I drive an expensive sports car. So unfair!" "Ugh, I didn't even brush my hair today and I still got hit on at the bus stop." "I can eat a whole pizza every day and not gain any weight. How weird is that?!"

But long before we were subjected to Ashley Judd lamenting about how tortuous it is to be nominated for an Emmy, networking had its own humblebrag moment. In fact, I would argue, networking has a humblebrag moment every few years.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: "What would we even do with so much bandwidth?!"

It's a refrain we often hear right before a new standard comes out that will double, triple or otherwise multiply the capacity on wired or wireless networks. And like clockwork, IT pros eat those words a few years later when the latest killer app comes along that consumes most of their available bandwidth. Even the data center engineers at Google underestimated how quickly video traffic would saturate their network.

And here we are again as the first 802.11ac Wave 2 access points hit the market. This second and final phase of the latest Wi-Fi standard claims it can hit a theoretical maximum of nearly 7 Gbps. While it's a speed we can expect to see only in tightly controlled lab environments, no doubt Wave 2 will make multi-gigabit speeds a reality in enterprise wireless LANs.

It's an intriguing notion for most network engineers, but without the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult for them to imagine how they could possibly take full advantage of such throughput.

For most enterprises, Wave 2 sounds like overkill today. And for many that have already overhauled their networks to support Wave 1, spending thousands more on Wave 2 is out of the question. But it won't be long before the next big bandwidth-hogging application comes along, and it will catapult the need for Wave 2's capacity gains to the forefront.

As we explore in our cover story in this issue of Network Evolution ("802.11ac speed gains may drive WLAN architecture changes in Wave 2"), enterprises preparing to take the plunge will need to think about how Wave 2 affects their architecture beyond access points and switches.

Also in this issue, we look at whether the "single pane of glass" approach to network management is still the preferred model with increasingly abstracted IT environments that use cloud and virtualization technologies ("Shattering the 'single pane of glass' myth of network management"). We also dive into how the emerging world of Layer 4-7 orchestration aims to simplify and automate the less-than-glamorous tasks of network service provisioning and lifecycle management ("Layer 4-7 network orchestration: Are we there yet?").

Finally, in this edition of "The Subnet," one network engineer in the middle of testing VMware's NSX platform shares his experiences with network virtualization ("Adios, legacy network architectures: Making the jump to NSX").

Next Steps

802.11ac Wave 2 will likely drive switch upgrades: Here's why

Wired networks must be ready to support faster 802.11ac speeds

Is your network ready for 802.11ac Wave 2?

This was last published in May 2015

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What do you think will be the next killer app that maxes out wireless networks?
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I'm going to say a proliferation of rapid delivery streaming services. the more access we have, the more we stream, and the greater the performance hit.
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As is always the case, we use terms like "all that bandwidth" at our own peril. The fact is, the networks of twenty years ago would choke under the level of load we create today, from all sources. The need for more bandwidth is coming, and it's making it ever harder for old systems to keep up in any meaningful way.
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