A sports car with a 500-horse engine that can do 130 mph sure sounds like a lot of fun—until reality sets in. For $70 grand or more, you’re getting a vehicle that, thanks to speed limits and traffic jams, probably will never get above 90 mph. You’ll also pay a hefty premium in the form of property taxes and insurance. And all for what?
Sounds illogical, and it is, just like rushing to implement multi-user multiple-input multiple-output (MU-MIMO) radio technology for Wi-Fi. Also known as 802.11ac Wave 2, MU-MIMO aims to increase performance for each device by knowing their locations and steering the signals accordingly. But what looks impressive in marketing collateral starts to lose its sexy sheen in the harsh light of technological and financial reality.
For starters, Wave 2 isn’t mainstream. Currently only about 50 commercially available smartphones and other portable/mobile devices support 802.11 ac MU-MIMO. “Support” also comes with an asterisk because not all of them support two spatial streams. For example, just because a device uses a chipset capable of two streams doesn’t mean that the vendor has designed the rest of that device to use more than just one.
Granted, the selection of Wave 2 devices will increase over time, but for at least the next few years, the installed base won’t be large enough to justify the premium of Wave 2 wall-plate AP’s in each guest room. A focus on network security, personal area networking, and mobility over the Wi-Fi network will provide hotel guests a richer experience that makes them feel more at home.
And even if the majority of today’s smartphones, laptops, and tablets did support Wave 2, the technology still is saddled with a host of caveats. A few examples:
- It increases network overhead on every radio channel that uses it. That additional traffic means less bandwidth for guests and for internal applications such as connecting a property’s digital signage and surveillance cameras.
- It can increase interference across the network, further reducing the amount of bandwidth available to guests and to internal applications. One way is by increasing the noise floor when neighboring MU-MIMO AP’s signals tread on each other.
- Its benefits plummet when multiple user devices are close to one another, as is often the case in hospitality environments. An example is a family in a guest room where mom, dad, and their kids each have a tablet. The MU-MIMO AP would struggle to maximize the signal for a particular device while ensuring that this signal also is minimized for the rest of the nearby devices.
- It can increase network complexity and cost. To address these and other issues, a higher density of AP’s may be necessary throughout the hotel property. There’s the additional cost of the AP’s themselves and pulling cable for power and backhaul, plus the time spent tweaking the whole network to minimize interference.
All of these drawbacks will come as a surprise to property owners and operators who have been inundated with marketing touting Wave 2 wall plate AP’s as a must-have. But consultants and other experts have been warning for a while that the technology has a host of caveats. That’s why it makes more sense for hotels to focus their Wi-Fi budgets on other technologies that deliver a faster, more secure and more reliable experience for all users—not just the handful with a brand-new technology.