UNSW deploys 802.11ac Wi-Fi


blog It’s a slow process, but gradually the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is making its way into consumer and corporate locations to gradually upgrade 802.11a/b/n installations. 802.11ac wireless routers are being sold in stores and mobile devices are gradually getting support. One of the first major organisations in Australia to deploy the technology en-masse will be the University of NSW, which told Computerworld (we recommend you click here for the full story):

“The faster speeds will be made possible with the introduction of a Cisco 802.11 ac enterprise-grade cloud-managed access point. This upgrade will take place by June 2013.”

I have to say, this is a pretty awesome deal for students at UNSW, as long as they don’t limit the background speeds too far. Wi-Fi reception on campuses that I’ve studied on (including UNSW itself) has always been relatively patchy and inconsistent, especially when you’re looking to stream video from sites like YouTube. If this upgrade can make UNSW’s campus Wi-Fi network rock solid, I know there will be many thousands of students pathetically grateful. Nice one.

Image credit: UNSW, Wikimedia Commons


  1. The standard hasn’t been finalised. What’s going to happen when it is, and UNSW finds that its equipment is not standards-compliant? This happened with 802.11N; early adopters take a huge risk.

    The other problem is that having an 802.11ac access point does not immediately increase speeds. The devices that connect to it also have to support the standard to see its benefits – and nothing does yet.

    • Not only that, but they must be compatible with the pre-certification version as implemented in the Access Point design. This was really the biggest issue with ‘802.11n compatible’ equipment, the fact that there were very slight differences in implementation between vendor equipment, making much of it worthless unless the objective was a tightly controlled ecosystem of company issued devices and equipment. Anyone implementing 802.11ac right now is beyond naive if they think it will be reliably compatible with all standards compliant devices for the duration of its useful service life (unless Cisco has guaranteed that and is willing to upgrade or replace it if there are future issues).

      The biggest problems will be intermittent – devices that seem to connect and work ok, but have abberant performance and occasional connection issues. I still see such things from 802.11n devices occasionally even today. There are a lot of vendors out there and even Cisco has been known to produce substandard devices – the best chance to meet the challenges of inter-vendor compatibility is adherence to the standards, something which pre-standard devices will never achieve.

      My advice is for businesses to leave pre-certification device experimentation to consumers. This sort of tactic grabs headlines, but it is a headache for both technical staff and users alike. Mind you, the administrators making these decisions don’t really care about the problems on the ground…

  2. As it has with previous 802.11 standards, Cisco’s working very closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance to ensure that our .11ac module complies with the test bed they’re creating to ensure interoperability between all .11ac Wi-Fi APs and client solutions from any and all vendors.

    Also, it’s important to note that If you take a look under the hood of the Cisco 3600 Access Point you’ll see the only 802.11n access point on the market today that supports 802.11n-based 4×4 MIMO with three spatial streams and Cisco’s CleanAir and ClientLink technologies.

    What you’ll also see is a modular slot. This is where the industry’s very first enterprise class 802.11ac solution comes in. Literally. When 802.11ac products are certified, it’s a simple matter of simply plugging in a Cisco 802.11ac radio module into the slot and immediately upgrade your access point to leverage the new standard.

    For organisations like UNSW, the Cisco Aironet 3600 access point bridges the gap between what is needed today and future demands.

    • Thanks for the informative reply, Linda. May I ask, what forward compatibility does Cisco guarantee with these units? It’s all very well to talk about ‘working with the WIFI alliance’ – every vendor claims exactly the same thing. But it’s also quite easy to fall back on the defence that the device wasn’t actually certified, even if the upgradable modules may be.

      Speaking of which, what is the cost of the upgrade module? Why is the module needed if the device will be standards compliant? Will a module be provided free of charge of the ratified standard differs from that implemented in the device?

      “… the only 802.11n access point on the market today that supports 802.11n-based 4×4 MIMO with three spatial streams and Cisco’s CleanAir and ClientLink technologies.”

      No offence, but of course it is. No one but Cisco can use CleanAir or ClientLink… ;-)

  3. More specifically, when I say we’ve been closely with WFA, we’ve been tracking the development of the specifics and test plan for the official 802.11ac Wave 1 certification plan.

    We expect to begin WFA certification once the WFA officially launches the test bed (we understand this to be in the June/July time-frame) and expect to achieve WFA certification shortly thereafter.

    To date, we have not seen anything in the test plan that will be basis for certification that will present any implications to our support of 802.11ac. Certainly nothing in hardware that would warrant a change and we likewise do not anticipate any software changes to accommodate any aspect of the WFA certification.

    In the unlikely event there are any issues encountered requiring software modification, Cisco would distributed an upgrade using our standard method for updating customers with any issues that might be encountered. Again we do not see or anticipate any hardware implications from WFA certification.

    With regards to this question: Why is the module needed if the device will be standards compliant?

    While the Cisco 3600 Access Point is .11n, the module (attaches onto the AP) is .11ac. The customer only needs the .11ac module if they’d like to extend to beyond .11n. Did that answer your question?

    Let me get back to you on pricing, I’m waiting a response from my US-based colleagues.

  4. Thanks again for taking the time to write such a detailed reply. It seems Cisco can provide a great deal of certainty for businesses needing to deploy next-gen Wifi networks, which I applaud you for – this is a much better situation and will result in much greater business confidence than we’ve seen with previous iterations and some other vendor hardware claiming standards compliance.

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