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When Will We Hit The Limits of Gigabit Ethernet with Wi-Fi?

Since the advent of the Internet, a number of technological improvements were necessary to facilitate the speeds that users have come to expect. From dial-up to DSL, from 802.11b to 802.11ac, to name a few- these changes have helped enrich Internet experience and accessibility. Similarly Wi-Fi brought much added convenience over wired connections but reduced speeds. To mitigate these limitations, Wi-Fi technology has evolved to increase speeds, as have wired standards (for example, from 10/100 to Gigabit Ethernet).

In recent years, Wi-Fi has approached the speed of Gigabit Ethernet. This is the standard used by most wired connections to send and receive data. In this blog entry, we’ll examine the speed of current wireless devices and how they compare to Gigabit Ethernet.

Comparing Gigabit Ethernet to Wi-Fi

It’s important we look at Ethernet in the same way we do Wi-Fi to help us compare speeds. If Ethernet were marketed as a Wi-Fi device, it would advertise the following speeds:

Comparing-Gigabit-Ethernet-to-Wi-Fi-img

Note from these results that Gigabit Ethernet is actually 2-Gigabit aggregate and 10/100 Ethernet is a 200-Megabit aggregate.

How Wireless Measures Up

Now let’s look at how wireless compares. Here is some data from the fastest enterprise 4×4 MU-MIMO APs currently on the market under different client loads:

4×4 80 MHz 802.11ac MU-MIMO AP (nearly ideal conditions):

How-Wireless-Measures-Up-img

Note that with all wireless speeds cited – with little changed in the environment – these numbers will often be 50% of the advertised speeds. 

Chipset manufacturers, Wi-Fi firmware engineers, etc. are proud of these numbers, as they are real-world doubling of throughput from 3×3 802.11ac SU-MIMO:

3×3 80 MHz 11ac AP (nearly ideal conditions):

  • 50 clients: ~100 Mbps

As you can see, 4×4 MU-MIMO doubles performance, from ~100 Mbps to 200 Mbps aggregate TCP throughput.

Let’s summarize:

How-Wireless-Measures-Up-img

When Does Gigabit Ethernet Start Limiting Wireless Speeds?

While there have been a number of quicker alternatives to Gigabit Ethernet for many years (for example, 10-Gigabit, 25-Gigabit, etc.), these technologies have not yet been adopted on a wide scale. Understanding the data shown above leads us to consider the question, when will alternative multi-Gigabit Ethernet technologies really matter for the enterprise network?

Let’s look at some data:

When-Does-Gigabit-Ethernet-Start-Limiting-Wireless-Speeds-img

So the answer to our question is:

Somewhere around two to three 4×4 MU-MIMO 80 MHz radios (plus a 2.4 GHz radio), depending on the ratio of downstream/upstream traffic.

So as you can see, Gigabit Ethernet does not limit the speeds of enterprise deployment APs that have a single 4×4 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio and a single 4×4 2.4 GHz radio.

Feel free to reach out to us on the forum with any questions.