The wireless world is moving so fast that partners are constantly trying to keep up with the ever-increasing business demands of the wireless market. Like with many emerging digital technologies like IoT and smart technology, the business world lags slightly behind the consumer world. But today’s employees want a high speed, consistent wireless experience in the workplace just as they have at home, and partners are starting to turn to new Wi-Fi technology to give them a leg up over the competition.

With the use of more bandwidth-intensive applications and the explosion of devices in the workplace, Wi-Fi consumption is growing rapidly and straining wireless networks. To compensate, wireless providers have developed MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple Output), which improves overall performance and efficiency of a Wi-Fi network while providing dedicated bandwidth to devices as if they have their own dedicated router. With the rise of BYOD, SMB users are bringing MU-MIMO enabled handsets and tablets to work, fueling the demand for MU-MIMO in the business. According to ABI, more than 84% of all wireless 5GHz chipsets will be MU-MIMO enabled by 2019.  

“The consumption of Wi-Fi in the office is growing rapidly and places heavy demands on wireless networks today. A robust network infrastructure is necessary to deliver bandwidth-intensive applications such as IP communications and HD Video,” said Nandan Kalle, director of commercial networking at Linksys.

Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insight and Strategy said in a blog post that as we start to move towards 5G and beyond, MU-MIMO (multi-user MIMO) and 802.11ad are the technologies that will help usher in the next age of the wireless industry.

Second wave is upon us

At UC Summit last year, Michael F. Finneran of dBrn Associates presented on emerging wireless developments and said that Wi-Fi technology is coming in waves, and that the second wave is imminent. The second wave of 802.11ac Wi-Fi is an update to the recent 802.11ac standard, and MU-MIMO is a big part of it. It also provides a good opportunity for VARs and MSPs to provide products and service that group devices together in ways that utilize the maximum amount of bandwidth available to network-connected devices.

“The even bigger jump is on network performance, which could be more than 200% in some areas, or in places where MU-MIMO routers are installed. Yes, not only is your smartphone going to be obsolete, but unless you have one of the few MU-MIMO routers, you’ll have to replace it as well to get access to this performance,” long-time tech analyst Rob Enderle said. Thus, resellers in the channel have sales opportunities on both ends in order to achieve the performance increase.

As a matter of fact, Nolan Greene, research analyst for network infrastructure at IDC, is advising clients to adopt Wave 1 now only if devices are not operating properly on existing infrastructure and there is a desperate need for an upgrade. Otherwise, he says, "Wait until the dust settles, as you'll get a potentially faster and stronger product" with Wave 2.

Linksys brings MU-MIMO to SMBs

Last month, Linksys rolled out new Wave 2 networking equipment developed specifically for small business to the channel. The company has offered MU-MIMO in home Wi-Fi via consumer routers and is now bringing the tech to its SMB product line.

MU-MIMO has been out of reach for small business due to the high cost of Wave 2 gear, and Linksys says it’s the first to market a MU-MIMO AP at a price point affordable for the SMB market.

Features of the new offering include:

  • Next Generation AC Wi-Fi Connectivity – Allows multiple clients to transmit data simultaneously, improving performance and productivity in high-density wireless environments.
  • Clustering (single point control) – Enables small businesses and IT Administrators to manage up to 16 APs through a single interface without a WLAN controller.
  • Captive Portal (Secure and customized guest Wi-Fi access) – A fully customizable landing page for businesses to welcome visitors and provide wireless access in a branded environment that is separated from the core business network.
  • Flexible Deployment – Can be deployed as a typical access point, as a wireless distribution system (WDS), or as a workgroup bridge to extend your wireless range coverage.
  • Easy to Use with PoE+ – Integrated with 802.3at PoE+ capability to eliminate extra power adapters and offer optimal placement. It also provides an intuitive Web administrative interface, easy to set up and easy to use.
  • Advanced Security Over Wireless – Includes Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2), 802.1X Supplicant Authentication, MAC and IP-Based ACL, Rogue AP Detection, SSID-to-VLAN Mapping, Wireless Scheduler, and more.
  • Beamforming – Is designed to precisely adjust, steer and monitor the direction and shape of the Wi-Fi signals for better performance.

“Given the replacement cycle of APs and the influx of MU-MIMO-enabled clients coming on the market, it only makes sense to deploy a network that supports them, or a small business runs the risk of negatively impacting company operations and giving employees and customers a degraded Wi-Fi experience,” Kalle said. “With MU-MIMO, small businesses can relieve congestion today while future-proofing their networks for tomorrow.”