The recent launch of the iPhone 6 has proven to be Apple’s biggest for the line with 4 million pre-ordered, 10 million purchased the first weekend, and up to 100 million expected to ship in the first 6 months. This is on top of an installed base of over half a billion of iOS devices already out there.

New smartphone and tablet releases can be exciting, but as a network admin it can be a forbearer to major headaches. In particular, when Apple makes an announcement about a new mobile device, you can be sure that there will soon be a flood of new devices on your wireless network with new features and characteristics.

Given the broad reach of Apple products in today’s marketplace, the new phones will have an impact on Wi-Fi networks for several reasons:

802.11ac: The iPhone 6 marks the first Apple smartphone to support the latest generation of Wi-Fi technology standards – a recent comparison lab tests revealed a maximum 239Mbps throughput on an 11ac/5GHz connection on an iPhone 6 Plus. This is obviously leaps and bounds ahead of previous generation iPhones. While 802.11ac products have been shipping for over a year, I see the iPhone 6 release creating a significant tipping point for 11ac adoption given the number of devices that will ship in the coming months and the benefits of greater bandwidth and reduced power consumption.

AirDrop between iPhones, iPads, etc. and Macs: This capability allows devices to create peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connections to move data. While this functionality has been available from mobile device to mobile device, iOS 8 marks the first time that Macs and mobile devices can connect in this manner. I anticipate greater usage of AirDrop as users offload data from their mobile devices, e.g. transferring 80 pictures from vacation from an iPhone to a Mac. By extending this capability, I expect to see increased ad hoc Wi-Fi connections that can create channel planning and interference challenges within Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi calling: The iPhone 6 has Wi-Fi calling ability with cellular handoff. This development ups the ante on the Wi-Fi network to deliver good quality service or risk voice calls failing, leading to more Wi-Fi traffic and more stringent requirements for delivering it.

iCloud price: iCloud is now more than 70 per cent cheaper based on Apple’s recent price reduction, meaning more background file syncing over wireless.

Larger screens = more media consumption: The iPhone’s form factor is growing larger with this next generation and as screen sizes grow, I expect to see a connected shift in the amount of streaming media being consumed. Today, iPads consume significantly more content and network bandwidth than iPhones on average given their larger form factor. However as the smartphone’s size scales up, we can expect greater streaming usage on the iPhone and an increase in traffic on the wireless network as a result.

New AirPlay sharing capability between Macs and Smartphones over Wi-Fi will increase use of ad hoc Wi-Fi networks.

Larger video files with high res video, slow motion capabilities, etc. will take more capacity to offload the new phones.

How Can You Manage These Changes?

  1. Upgrade to faster 11ac infrastructure. 11ac is the next-gen wireless standard that replaces 802.11n, operating on the 5GHz band. With faster speeds, more channels for greater capacity, and less interference, Wi-Fi in 5GHz will provide a significantly better experience to your users than the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum, which many wireless devices use.
  2. With more devices using the wireless network, it’s important that organisations also look at their wired network, firewalls and WAN uplinks to ensure they can handle the increased bandwidth demands driven by these devices. Wi-Fi is often blamed when it performs poorly but there are other choke points to consider. It’s important to assess the entire network in line with changing user demands.
  3. Adding application visibility and control within your wireless system will help ensure your business critical apps get priority over all the social media, streaming video, games, and other recreational traffic common on smartphones.