Director of technology services Dustin Crossfield envisions a future in which Oklahoma government won’t need any more CAT 5 cable drops.

Apr 13 2015

802.11ac Wireless Quickly Pervades Government

Some IT leaders foresee doing away with network cabling to the desktop.

For the state of Oklahoma, the days of running Ethernet cables to the desktop may soon be over. “With the performance we’ve seen from our recent 802.11ac Wi-Fi deployment, it won’t be long before new offices will need only a few wireless access points and switch closets,” says Dustin Crossfield, director of technology services for Oklahoma. “If John and Sally want to switch cubes, they won’t even have to call IT.”

The state’s wireless journey began three years ago as part of an overall state IT consolidation with 802.11n APs used solely for Internet access. As the number of wireless gadgets per user multiplied, Oklahoma implemented Aruba AP-205 and AP-215 802.11ac APs and the Aruba ClearPass Access Management System. At first, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services installed 802.11ac primarily in conference rooms and other high-traffic venues. Crossfield says demand grew quickly, and wireless became mission-critical.

Today, Oklahoma has rolled out more than 1,000 Aruba APs to more than 80 state agencies. “I think that number will double next year and again the year after,” Crossfield says. The performance has been so good compared with wired Ethernet that the state is testing Voice over IP (VoIP) and other bandwidth-hungry services over 802.11ac. We’re looking at an eventual move to wireless-only connections in new offices,” he says.

“There are already lots of all-wireless enterprises out there,” says Craig Mathias, founder and principal at Farpoint Group, thanks in part to the new 802.11ac standard that beefs up wireless performance to 1.3 gigabits per second or more, roughly triple the standard of the 802.11n standard and on par with Gigabit Ethernet. Several other enhancements ramp up quality of service and capacity, making 802.11ac ideal for VoIP, streaming video and other bandwidth-, latency- and QoS-dependent applications.

In addition to the Aruba APs, Oklahoma uses a cluster of Aruba 6000 Series Mobility Controllers for centralized AP management and ClearPass to control application and data access. Aruba’s AirWave network management and operations software handles wireless monitoring, troubleshooting and alerts.

Crossfield likes the easy deployment of the Aruba solution. “The heat map tool is so accurate that we no longer have to do a manual radio propagation study,” he notes. “Now, when I take my tablet down the hall, go to a meeting at the Department of Transportation or drive to the Tulsa state building, I have the exact same connectivity as I have on my office PC.”


Percentage of dependent access point shipments that the 802.11ac standard accounts for, representing a noticeably faster adoption rate than the transition to 802.11n several years ago

SOURCE: IDC, “IDC Worldwide Quarterly WLAN Tracker,” November 2014

Expanded Coverage

Like Oklahoma, Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s 802.11ac deployment was also part of a major IT consolidation that moved most of the county’s agencies into a new administration building in Cleveland. Many agencies had previously deployed 802.11n APs, but the IT group decided it needed 802.11ac to best support VoIP phones and mobile users.

“With 802.11ac, we knew we would get increased coverage and better performance with fewer access points,” says Joe Zysek, wide area network manager for Cuyahoga County. The county deployed more than 100 Cisco Aironet 3700 Series APs last summer, with an average of 200 users connected at any one time. A Cisco 5508 Series wireless controller provides centralized management and software updates, while Cisco access control and encryption protect applications.

“Management has been a nonissue, and we have much better coverage and less interference than with the 802.11n access points,” Zysek says. He estimates the county uses 20 percent fewer APs per floor compared with the previous 802.11n technology.

As notebooks and tablets are refreshed, users are able to take advantage of the new standard. “They’re seeing a huge performance difference under 802.11ac,” says Michael Young, chief technology officer of Cuyahoga County.

Young advises his peers to deploy 802.11ac gear now. “This is one of those cases where it’s more cost-effective to go with the new, because it puts you in the position to take advantage of a lot of new device capabilities,” he adds.

Stimulating the Economy

When the city of Englewood, N.J., wanted to provide fast public wireless downtown, it looked to 802.11ac and the cloud. “Public Wi-Fi was part of a plan to boost the downtown’s economic development,” says Adam Brown, chairman of the Englewood Economic Development Corp.

Because budget was basically nonexistent, the organization turned to a cloud Wi-Fi provider for the 802.11ac hardware, installation and management. Englewood Hospital and Medical Center provides the Internet access. As luck would have it, the economic development group discovered unused fiber connecting the hospital with the downtown, which reduced costs considerably.

The network gets more than 2,200 users a day, and both Wi-Fi and economic performance have been stellar. “Six new restaurants opened in July. At a recent block party, users with smartphones purchased food tickets over Wi-Fi,” Brown says. He loves that the city doesn’t need IT staff to handle ongoing operations and management of the Wi-Fi network — it’s all done by the cloud provider.

Shevaun Williams

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