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Did you upgrade your network to 802.11ac when the first few wireless access points (APs) and routers came to market? If so, you may need to upgrade again—this time to 802.11ac Wave 2. As its name suggests, it is the second wave of 802.11ac products based on an updated 802.11ac standard. The suffix “Wave 2” isn’t an official IEEE standard and its use comes mostly from vendors, but products with the designation will have additional features and performance not seen in “Wave 1” offerings.

The changes in these Wave 2 products include several significant additions to the standard.

  • 4 Spatial Streams (4SS) – 802.11ac Wave 2 APs will feature support for more spatial streams through the addition of an additional antenna. This allows for increased performance and works in conjunction with MU-MIMO (multi-user-multiple input, multiple output)
  • 160 MHz channels – Double the amount of channel bandwidth currently supported by Wave 1 Wi-Fi APs. With more bandwidth comes better throughput, and the 160 MHz band allows for a theoretical maximum of 3.4 Gbps.
  • Multiple-user, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO) – 802.11n introduced single-user MIMO technology, which allows for multiple antennas to simultaneously transmit to one client for better data throughput. Multi-user MIMO allows for multiple antennas to transmit to multiple clients, which lets routers better support larger numbers of users.In order to fully take advantage of MU-MIMO however, both the AP and the client needs to support it. At this time, few—if any—devices support MU-MIMO.
  • Power over Ethernet+ (PoE+) Required – Wave 2 wireless devices will require PoE+ support from your network switch, so you will need to upgrade your wired network infrastructure if it does not support PoE+.

With the updates above, 802.11ac Wave 2 brings faster speeds and support for a greater number clients. In fact, wireless AC Wave 2 speeds can exceed that of wired network connections. But this introduces a new bottleneck in the system—the connection from the router or AP to the wired network. To address this issue, Cisco recently announced their Catalyst Multigigabit Ethernet Switches.

802.11ac Wave 2 Wireless APs

Despite being a still-new development, there are already a few Wave 2 network routers available on the market. Below, we discuss a few of the more popular offerings.

NETGEAR Nighthawk X4 R7500-100NAS

Rating: 4/5 Eggs

Price: $249.99

Netgear’s flagship router, it unfortunately suffered from well-publicized firmware issues at launch. However, subsequent firmware updates seemed to have fixed the problems as users report having no issues post updates. Consider it for a small office as it boasts two USB 3.0 ports, printer sharing functionality, and NAS capabilities.

Ideal use: Small office with no dedicated NAS device.


Rating: 3/5 Eggs

Price: $247.99

Not officially marketed as a Wave 2 router, the Asus RT-AC87U nonetheless supports four spatial streams and MU-MIMO capabilities. However, 160 MHz support is not supported by the chipset. Similar to the Nighthawk X4, it supports printing sharing and limited NAS capabilities. However, unlike the Nighthawk X4, it does not suffer from firmware issues out of the box.

Ideal use: Small office with no dedicated NAS device.

CISCO Aironet 3700 Series Access Point

Rating: N/A

Price: $950.99

Released as a Wave 1 product, it supports a modular design which allows for future Wave 2 support to be added in. Cisco’s target date for such a module is expected to be 2016, according to their data sheet for the Aironet 3700. Out of the box, it supports MIMO with three spatial streams and PoE+. Consider it future proofing for when Wave 2 clients begin to roll out.

Ideal use: Large offices with PoE+ infrastructure.

How are you getting ready for your 802.11ac wave 2 deployment?

Photo by Irfan Johanda, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Article Name
802.11ac Wave 2—How to Get Ready - HardBoiled
802.11ac Wave 2 products are gradually starting to roll out, is your SMB going to be ready for a upgrade? Wave 2 APs & routers bring a host of improvements.
Wallace Chu

Author Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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