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WLAN 2016 technology trends

As we look ahead in the new year, wireless LAN 2016 technology trends include 802.11ac Wave 2, analytics, 2.5/5/10 Gbps, LTE conflicts and the Internet of Things.

Innovation remains especially alive and well in the world of Wi-Fi, so let's look at our own top 10 2016 technology trends in the world of wireless LAN.

802.11ac Wave 2 is here at last  

Wave 2 of 802.11ac is usually defined as one of the following:

  • Support for more than three MIMO streams -- two or three have been common to date, and the standard designates up to eight;
  • Channel bandwidths of up to 160 MHz; and
  • Support for multiuser MIMO, which enables an access point (AP) to beam distinct transmissions to multiple clients per transmit cycle.

While not all of these capabilities were available at the end of 2015, expected improvements in radio architecture, design, firmware, antennas and management software mean Wave 2 will rapidly become the new baseline in 2016 technology trends.

Analytics becomes a requirement

Analytics is a set of techniques often associated with big data that's applied when you don't know what you're looking for. In the case of wireless LAN, tons of data relating to performance optimization, security, application usage and more can be captured, but making use of this mountain of bits requires analytical tools. These will become a core requirement during 2016. Going forward, exploiting the value within the trove of captured information will enable management systems to automatically optimize wireless performance and drive the evolution of software-defined networks (SDN).

2.5/5/10 Gbps replace 1 Gbps link aggregation

Thanks to Wave 2 of 802.11ac, 1 GbE is on the way out. The core debate is whether today's link aggregation -- to 2 Gbps -- will be replaced by the 2.5/5 Gbps products now coming on the market, or whether the next big upgrade will be to 10 Gbps, which will eventually be required. Regardless, the days of the 1 Gbps port and switch are coming to a close.

Management -- and more -- in the cloud

Locating network management in the cloud now makes more sense than ever, given falling costs, improved reliability, access from anywhere and the ability to run an entire global operation from a handset while waiting for lunch. Expect even more network functionality to migrate into the cloud as well, thanks to SDN, networking as a service, and improved reliability and fault tolerance. All you'll need locally are APs, a few Power over Ethernet switches and a router or two.

802.11ad/WiGig arrives

Misconceptions surrounding the 60 GHz world of 802.11ad, what the Wi-Fi Alliance calls WiGig, will finally be put to bed with a good number of production deployments in 2016. Prepare to be amazed with multigigabit throughput and surprising rate-versus-range performance in open-office and closed-room settings. Just as many used to think that the 5 GHz spectrum didn't have the range required, so it is with 60 GHz today. Myths die hard, but benefits can last a very long time, indeed.

Wi-Fi dominates the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things may just be a convenient term for machine-to-machine and telemetry services based on IP, but it's going to be huge nonetheless. Surprising to some who are assessing wireless 2016 technology trends, Wi-Fi is going to be the wireless link of choice in many -- if not most -- commercial and consumer applications. Products and components with the required form factor, price, performance, battery life and cost profiles are already on the market. The ability to leverage existing infrastructures truly seals the deal.

Passpoint and Wi-Fi Aware simplify our mobile lives

Connecting to Wi-Fi networks via the 'click an SSID and enter a passphrase' method is about to become obsolete.

Connecting to Wi-Fi networks via the "click an SSID and enter a passphrase" method is about to become obsolete, as the Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint makes connecting to a Wi-Fi network the zero-click affair common on cellular systems. And the preassociation service discovery of Wi-Fi Aware will add new convenience and shift the way many look at Wi-Fi -- from "connect and search" to "don't connect, but receive valuable information anyway."

Conflict with unlicensed LTE continues

A few cellular carriers are likely to deploy an unlicensed version of LTE in the spectrum used by Wi-Fi in one of the leading 2016 technology trends. To be fair, this spectrum is certainly not the sole province of Wi-Fi. But the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, its mission-criticality in many settings, and the fact that the current version of unlicensed LTE pretty much destroys Wi-Fi's ability to operate means a solution must be found. Keep your eye on this one.

Wi-Fi everywhere

But even those cellular operators know Wi-Fi has become as important as cellular for organizational users and consumers alike. Expect to see expanding deployments of Wi-Fi in cars, planes, consumer electronics, the home, at work, in urban areas, on cruise ships and just about everywhere else. Also, expect to see new public-access Wi-Fi services from Microsoft, Google and others. Passpoint, again, will be smoothing the way.

And there's more

Finally, while 802.11ac Wave 2 represents more evolution than revolution, the innovation that has been the hallmark of wireless LANs over the past two decades continues. Now underway at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, is the development of new standards, including 802.11ax, which is shooting for the magical 10 Gbps throughput mark in the 5 GHz bands; and 802.11ay, which will enable 20 Gbps at 60 GHz. No single user needs that kind of performance, of course. But remember: It's not about speed today; it's about capacity. And the wizards have us covered for 2016 technology trends -- and in the years to come.

Next Steps

802.11ac Wave 2 prompts switch upgrades

Exploring the growth of LTE

Understanding Wi-Fi everywhere

This was last published in January 2016

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