Technology Blog

Don't Get Lost in the New Wave 2 Surge

Aruba Employee

Earlier last year, when the first 802.11ac Wave 2 access point came to the market, customers still were not convinced whether they should migrate their legacy 802.11n wireless networks to 802.11ac Wave 1 or Wave 2. A year later, in 2016, with multiple Wave 2 AP models available in the market with varying performance attributes, customers are now seeing that Wave 2 is here and should be the technology they implement as they rollout new or updated wireless networks for the digital workplace. Understanding the difference among each Wave 2 access point and choosing the right Wave 2 are on the top of the customer list when upgrading or expanding their wireless networks.  


As in many other industries, the wireless industry has been moving forward at speeds faster than ever before. Figure 1 illustrates the migration path of 802.11ac technologies. The first 802.11ac AP (Wave 1) products were available in 2013; In 2015, the first 802.11ac Wave 2 AP was shipped. It supported an aggregate data rate up to 2.5Gbps with two GigE ports; In 2016, the Wave 2 technology was pushed further. The newest Wave 2 AP added an additional stream for MU-MIMO. The dual uplink ports with 1GigE and 2.5GigE support allow a higher data throughput in very high-density environments, eliminating the potential uplink bottlenecks.


Figure 1: The evolution of 802.11ac


With the Wave 2 technology becoming more mature in 2016, vendors are able to bring a number of Wave 2 options to the market to meet customers’ performance and budget requirements:


The highest performance 802.11ac Wave 2 AP with multi-gigabit Ethernet


  • Supports 1.7Gbps @ 5GHz and 800Mbps @ 2.4GHz. Due to the limited availability of Wave 2 devices and transmission overheads, we expect to see typical data throughput around 1Gbps but less than 2Gbps in an enterprise environment
  • Supports 4x4:4SS SU/MU-MIMO. With 4SS, although the peak data rate is not increased, the overall WLAN utilization is improved by allowing simultaneous transmission to multiple clients
  • 160MHz is supported but not recommended due to (a) lack of client device support and (2) only having 1-2 channels available that means there would be co-channel interference if deployed any wider than 80MHz
  • Use cases:
    • Boost the WLAN capacity along with the wired switching upgrade
    • Flexible multi-gig uplinks provide an option for the customer who is updating the wired devices and expecting a higher data throughput close to 2Gbps
    • High-density environments are driven by BYOE(Everything), IOT, mobile apps, videos
    • Leading verticals: higher education(K12), enterprise (high tech), government, hospitality, financial, healthcare

The highest performance 802.11ac Wave 2 AP with dual 1GigE ports


  • Supports 1.7Gbps @ 5GHz and 800Mbps @ 2.4GHz.
  • Supports 4x4:4SS SU –MIMO; 3SS for MU-MIMO.
  • Dual 1GigE ports allow the data transmission of over 1Gbps without updating the wired switches while providing redundancy to enhance the network reliability
  • Use cases:
    • High-density environment is driven by BYOE(Everything), IOT, mobile apps, videos
    • Higher Ed and enterprises are the leading adopters

The high-performance 802.11ac Wave 2 AP with a single 1GigE port


  • Supports 1.7Gbps @ 5GHz and 400Mbps @ 2.4GHz.
  • Supports 4x4:4SS SU/MU-MIMO to ensure the highest performance
  • 160MHz is supported but not recommended due to (a) lack of client device support and (2) only having 1-2 channels available that means there would be co-channel interference if deployed any wider than 80MHz
  • Supports 802.3af/at power and can operate on 802.3af power in unrestricted mode
  • Use cases:
    • Carpet deployments
    • Cost sensitive environments including schools(K12), retail branches, hotels and enterprises

With the availability of above Wave 2 APs that are priced and positioned for different use cases, customers can rightsize their WLAN components when migrating from their older 802.11n or 11ac Wave 1 to Wave 2 WLANs based on their budget, performance needs and their wired switch upgrade cycle as they move to multi-gigabit at the access layer. To do so, one must look at not only the hardware specifications but the software intelligence added to the WLAN solution. Those values may include:


  • Advanced radio management that enables the highest performance of WLANs
  • WLAN visibility and control capabilities to identify the actual network problem and fix it before user’s blame on “bad Wi-Fi connections”
  • Web content filtering to filter over 1000 applications, ensuring the highest network performance
  • Integration of Aruba Beacons that enable location-based services that monetize the network investment with advanced way finding, notification pushing, and friend connecting functions

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