I recently came across an interesting TechTarget article that discusses when an organization should upgrade to multi-gigabit (mGig) switches to support a new generation of 802.11ax access points (APs). As we’ve previously discussed here on the Ruckus Room, the IEEE 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard features multiple enhancements that enable access points to offer an expected four-fold capacity increase over its 802.11ac Wave 2 predecessor (Wi-Fi 5) in dense scenarios.
The introduction of 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) access points is certainly timely, as many organizations are already pushing the limits of the 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) standard, particularly in high-density venues such as stadiums, convention centers, transportation hubs, and auditoriums. Indeed, the proliferation of connected devices, along with 4K video streaming, is placing unprecedented demands on networks across the globe.
To accommodate the demand for increased capacity, some organizations have begun deploying 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) access points alongside existing 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) access points, with the former expected to become the dominant enterprise Wi-Fi standard by 2021. To take full advantage of the speeds offered by 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) APs (up to 5 gigabits per second), organizations have also begun installing multi-gigabit switches to either replace or supplement older infrastructure. This is because system administrators cannot ensure a quality user experience by simply upgrading one part (access points) of a network. To reap the benefits of 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) requires upgrades on the switch side as well.
The transition to multi-gigabit switches
It is important to emphasize that the transition to multi-gigabit switches does not necessarily require a wholesale infrastructure upgrade. It can happen gradually adding a few switches as needed. Furthermore, most multi-gigabit switches today include a mix of multi-gigabit and gigabit ports. Only those ports connected to 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) APs require multi-gigabit speeds, while the other gigabit ports are adequate for computers, printers, VoIP phones, cameras, and other Ethernet devices.
With the introduction of 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) starting now and the approaching avalanche of IoT connections, higher speed in the wired infrastructure is critical to prevent bottlenecks and maintain optimal network performance. I suggest that the transition to multi-gigabit switches should start now. With the average life for a switch being 5 to 7 years and up to 10 years for many institutions, the need for multi-gigabit connections will almost certainly be upon us within this timeframe.