Life, Death, Taxes, and WI-FI

By mwilson posted Apr 15, 2015 01:03 PM


‘Tis the season once again in these United States to render unto our government that which is due our government. It is increasingly evident that some portion of my tax dollars as well as the dollars of fellow citizens will be spent on providing an increasing number of Wi-Fi services for the federal worker. The mainstream use of Wi-Fi for the federal government presents policy thresholds, oversight questions and purchasing challenges that most commercial businesses do not face. In the act of being good stewards of our collective tax dollars we, at Aruba, are often asked by the government worker for recommendations with regards to the quickly changing landscape of wireless access points and the associated radio frequencies. For that reason I have compile a list of standard network types and our current recommendations on radio and access point selection to maximize the purchasing dollar in a three to five year contract purchasing cycle for both the network and wireless clients. *


Logistics Networks


These are the get stuff done networks of the federal government --everything from hangers and warehouses full of munitions to points of sale at a base exchange. The client mix is comprised of various specialty printers, hand held scan guns, and other assorted Wi-Fi variants that generally have either older radio chipset or if current then likely has no real need for speed. In these networks we recommend resisting the temptation to buy legacy access (802.11 a/b/g) even though they might be on sale for a song and a dance. Though the radios might match the clients, the support on these AP is probably short lived if it exists at all. You also won’t need 802.11ac in these scenarios. The clients in these environments are very unlikely to even support these data rates and the cost can still be a premium. Access points utilizing 802.11N are the sweet spot for this type of environment. You still get the range boost of moving away from diversity antennas to MIMO antennas for legacy clients and it is highly likely that the client radio in new devices for the next 3-5 years will also be 802.11n.


Outdoor Networks


Between the Department of Defense and their civilian counterparts, the federal government use cases for outdoor Wi-Fi networks are pretty much endless. For outdoor access points many of the use cases involve AP to AP communication which makes the hardware fairly identical on both ends of the connection. This infers that maximum benefit is to be gained when using newer Wi-Fi technologies like 802.11ac. Even in cases where the communication is client to AP, the gains in range and reliability tend to still exist even if the clients are using non-802.11ac chipsets. These gains are realized from specialty outdoor antennas that help 802.11ac function better outdoors even though there are fewer items to create the multipath that MIMO devices like to use to increase data transfer speed. For this reason the recommendation to use the latest and greatest technology for outdoor networks, even if at a premium, will insure the best value and most life from the purchase.




These are the classic office space networks. As you can imagine, the mix of government buildings range from historically preserved to a typical cube farm. Recommendations for these networks tend to evolve around an actual site survey and would lean towards buying the latest and greatest. However, much like the logistics networks, the client mix is a huge factor in selecting between n/ac/Wave II ac. Since Wave II ac is still in the very early stages of development and the client base is basically still non-existent, building a future proofed network for clients that likely won’t be in the current or near term purchasing cycle doesn’t make a lot of sense. The recommendation now would be a minimum 802.11n network with an aggressive recommendation to move to 802.11ac. A need to move to Wave II ac technology is still a ways out for commercial and government networks alike.




The rate of change in the world of networking is unprecedented with regards to Wi-Fi hardware. The ability to adjust spatial streams to achieve higher data rates has resulted in roughly two-year development cycle between iterations of Wi-Fi chipsets. Access points have gone from 802.11n to 802.11ac in that time frame, with Wave II 802.11ac on the horizon. Unfortunately, 802.11 a/b/g clients have not peacefully declined in number and any given wireless network can have a massive mix of clients. With a typical purchasing cycle of 3-5 years it can be very confusing for Information Technology staff to choose what access points will work best for their installation. With these recommendations we hope to ease the burden of the purchasing agent by helping to pick the right access point to get the job done.


*Please note that suggestions in this post are time sensitive with a date of authorship April 15, 2015