HomeChannelsHow 802.11ax is driving the 100-gigabit campus (Reader Forum)

How 802.11ax is driving the 100-gigabit campus (Reader Forum)

The proliferation of connected devices is placing unprecedented demands on campus networks. With over 30 billion connected “things” expected by 2020, ensuring quality of experience for users in ultra-high-density locations is becoming more challenging than ever. Indeed, applications such as 4K video streaming are expected to drive internet traffic to 278,108 petabytes per month by 2021, with users generating a staggering 163 zettabytes of data on an annual basis by 2025.

IEEE 802.11ax – which is specifically designed for high-density connectivity – features multiple enhancements that allow access points (APs) to handle increased Wi-Fi bandwidth and ensure high quality of service. More specifically, 802.11ax supports the goal to achieve up to a four-fold capacity increase over its 802.11ac Wave 2 predecessor in dense scenarios. 802.11ax, which is slated to roll out this year in Wi-Fi and consumer devices, will undoubtedly go a long way in helping campuses address the exponential increase of both connected devices and data.

802.11ax: A catalyst for the 100-gigabit campus

The installation of 802.11ax APs will prompt campuses to embark on a comprehensive infrastructure refresh. More specifically, the transition to multi-gigabit in the radio spectrum will require the link between the AP and switch to move from 1GbE to multi-gigabit (IEEE 802.3bz) to support the peak bandwidth of approximately 5 gigabits per second on 802.11ax. The increasing bandwidth on the switch downlink from 1GbE to 2.5Gbe/5Gbe/10Gbe (multigigabit) will drive corresponding increases in uplinks from 10GbE to either multiple 10GbE connections or 40GbE or even 100GbE at the aggregation and core of the network.

It is important to emphasize that system administrators cannot ensure a quality user experience by simply upgrading one part of a campus network. Rather, it will require upgrades throughout the network. As an analogy, a weak foundation (switches) cannot be expected to sustainably support a complex structure (802.11ax APs), at least without the whole house coming down.

To be sure, connected devices are pushing an ever-increasing volume of traffic through the wired edge, which is gradually morphing into a wireless traffic aggregation layer requiring higher performance, availability and more advanced features throughout the network. Indeed, enterprise networks are no longer confined to providing simple VoIP phone connectivity and access to email and the internet.

Seamless mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), social media, 4K video, cloud-based SaaS applications and Big Data analytics are all contributing to an environment that demands greater performance from, and dependence on, the wired and wireless network. Additional examples of demanding applications include Apple’s new iMac Pro which offers support for 10 Gb/s Ethernet out of the box, as well as virtual reality classroom kits from companies like Lenovo which are rolling out in schools all over the U.S.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the numbers. At one time, a 1Gbps backbone was sufficient to handle a (wired) 10/100Mbps edge for relatively light traffic generated by email and basic web browsing. Transitioning to a wireless 1 Gbps edge necessitated a 10 Gbps backbone while migrating to a 2.5 Gbps 802.11ac-enabled edge – which supports denser files (downloads/uploads), HD video, gaming and VR – requires a 10 or 40 Gbps backbone.

From our perspective, the initial introduction of 802.11ax will see a 5 Gbps edge requiring a 40 Gbps backbone for adequate performance, while the convergence of 802.11ax, LTE and IoT can ultimately be expected to accelerate the move to a 5-10 Gbps edge and a 100 Gbps backbone.


The proliferation of connected devices has created an incredibly challenging environment for campus networks. IEEE 802.11ax – which supports data stream rates of 5+ Gbps – will allow access points to handle increased Wi-Fi bandwidth and ensure high quality of service in ultra-high-density deployment scenarios. These include venues where users routinely stream 4K video including stadiums, convention centers, hotels, urban transportation hubs, and schools. Concurrently, the upcoming rollout of 802.11ax access points will also prompt campuses to upgrade their infrastructure to prevent a backbone bottleneck.

As the era of the 100-gigabit campus approaches, it is important for companies to prepare for the future by investing in switches that are designed to meet the ongoing convergence of 802.11ax, LTE, and the IoT. These switches should be future-proof – and offer easy upgrades from 40GbE to 100GbE support for the massive amount of traffic driving from the edge into the core.


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