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Access network design for branch, remote, outdoor and campus locations with Aruba access points, and mobility controllers.
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mixing WiFi-5-and-earlier vs WiFi-6-and-later APs on a network

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  • 1.  mixing WiFi-5-and-earlier vs WiFi-6-and-later APs on a network

    Posted Jul 05, 2022 04:24 PM
    Last week in this thread in the controllerless community Airheads Community on mixing 300-series and 500-series APs, Marcel Koedijk recommended:

    From radio management perspective I would recommend to place all 802.11ax (WiFi-6) access point in the same area and not mixed with 802.11ac (WiFi-5) in the same area. If mixed you could disable HE SSID on the new access points until your whole area can be covered by WiFi-6 APs.


    Is this also true about such mixing in a controller-based environment? Is it just about the boundary between WiFi-5 and WiFi-6? Is there any sort of problem with mixing 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ac Wave 2 (Wi-Fi 5) together? (We have APs of all 3 of those types mixed together, and I haven't seen problems. Am I missing something?) What about mixing WiFi-6 with later generations?

    We are at 8.3 which allows us to run some WiFi-5 APs already, and once we go to 8.6 we will be able to add 500, 510, 530, and 550 APs which are WiFi-6. Knowing if we need to replace all of the APs in an entire area at once as we upgrade is pretty important.

    I have found this document very valuable in understanding what APs will coexist with other APs on a controller as I'm planning our upgrade paths: matrix_WLAN-platforms-software-support-matrix.pdf (arubanetworks.com)

    So much so that I have created my own spreadsheet LOL. A csv file with the data in the software-support-matrix PDF would be great to have, as I filled in my spreadsheet by hand, and it was tedious.

    I attached my PDF and spreadsheet here just in case it can save anyone else time and effort.

    Attachment(s)

    pdf
    ArubaSWmatrix.pdf   478 KB 1 version
    xlsx
    ArubaSWmatrix.xlsx   37 KB 1 version


  • 2.  RE: mixing WiFi-5-and-earlier vs WiFi-6-and-later APs on a network

    Posted Jul 06, 2022 03:36 AM
    I do not concur to this:
    "From radio management perspective I would recommend to place all 802.11ax (WiFi-6) access point in the same area
    and not mixed with 802.11ac (WiFi-5) in the same area"

    You should look at it from the end user "perspective", meaning its down to what device you connect with, and it's
    capabilities.
    You should do what's best for the user, and it is to serve the best you have all over, to everyone.



  • 3.  RE: mixing WiFi-5-and-earlier vs WiFi-6-and-later APs on a network

    EMPLOYEE
    Posted Jul 06, 2022 07:45 AM
    I agree with the point Steinar Grande is making - in the past we have seen some clients prefer to be connected to higher standard Access Points. This was very noticeable in the transitions from 802.11a/b/g to 802.11n and then again from 802.11n to 802.11ac.

    This behaviour will be unique to each client device type and may require some testing and experience to know what the behaviour will be in your environment - some may exhibit the preference for higher standards, while others may not. It's because of this that you will see some people make recommendations to keep like capability Access Points in same areas / zones where possible. It is possible that your clients perform fine when operating between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 Access Points but I haven't found a good resource which documents experience across many client variations. It's unlikely one exists. 

    Wi-Fi 6 is backwards compatible with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4, as well as standards prior so it won't "break" anything, per se. It's just you need to weigh up the impact on client experience if clients do prefer a far away, higher spec AP (Wi-Fi 6), when a perfectly fine and higher signal quality is available from a nearby, lower spec Wi-Fi 5 AP.


  • 4.  RE: mixing WiFi-5-and-earlier vs WiFi-6-and-later APs on a network

    Posted Jul 06, 2022 12:05 PM
    This is really helpful, because I misunderstood Marcel's point. I thought that he was saying that the WiFi-6 access points would turn off their advanced features by themselves when mixed in with WiFi-5 and lower, when he was actually recommending that the network manager would disable the features when the WiFi-6 APs were mixed with earlier technology.

    We are in a completely different universe than this. We are stuck at 8.3 by 103Hs which I have recently upgraded to 205Hs to allow us to upgrade to 8.6. When we do that, we will be at 8.6 for awhile as we have a large number of AP105s and AP135s to upgrade. The indoor ceiling-mounted WiFi-6 APs (500/510/530/550) WILL run 8.6, while the WiFi-6 hospitality (503H/505H) and outdoor (560/570) APs require us to move to 8.7. So threading our way through an upgrade path will mean that we will need to replace all of those 802.11n indoor ceiling-mounted APs with indoor ceiling-mounted WiFi-6 APs and then upgrade to 8.7 before we can deploy any hospitality or outdoor WiFi-6 APs. Sure if we had unlimited amounts of money we could just upgrade everything to the latest and greatest wonderful thing, but in the real world these things have to be done incrementally and that means mixing-and-matching APs. (And fortunately aruba equipment is very durable, so it will last through a complicated upgrade path...)

    I really like the way Steinar Grande puts it:

    You should do what's best for the user, and it is to serve the best you have all over, to everyone.

    Clients are ultimately in control of which radio they choose to connect to, and my experience is that different kinds of clients vary wildly in how good they are at picking the best AP. And that trying to "help" them -- especially by dumbing down the AP -- can just as easily make things worse!