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Cisco Meraki Documentation

Approximating Maximum Clients per Access Point

Each MR access point is designed to deliver the best possible performance. In combination with our Auto RF technology, each MR network will self-optimize and provide each client with the highest throughput possible. In order to achieve this in high-density environments, proper planning and designing are necessary. 

A well-designed network can support high-density client scenarios including schools, universities, stadiums, and Wi-Fi hotspots at crowded public locations. This document shall give some guidance on how to determine the maximum number of possible clients per Access Point.

Technical Considerations

The considerations in the number of clients that can be supported include:

  • Wireless AP model - The MR20 will support a lower number of clients as it is a Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 device with only 2x2:2 internal antenna design. Whereas Wi-Fi 6 MR access points like MR56 (8x8:8 Wi-Fi 6) will be able to support higher numbers of clients as they use a newer standard, which is optimized for high density.

  • Wi-Fi standard - IEEE is creating new and optimized standards. 802.11n, for example, was the first Wi-Fi standard to use 2.4 and 5 GHz simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax brings a long list of enhancements that can positively impact the maximum possible number of clients as well. See a detailed explanation in our whitepaper. But all these benefits can only be used if the client is capable and supports them.  So the type of client device has also a big impact on the maximum of clients an AP can handle at the same time.

  • Coverage v/s throughput requirements - Based on the amount of throughput required by each client device, the clients spread around the access point, and the available backhaul bandwidth, there may be a physical limitation to the number of clients that can be supported and delivered with an 'acceptable' wireless quality of service that is independent of the wireless AP’s performance. If there is a 5Gbps mGig connection from AP to switchport but only a 10Mbps Internet connection, the bottleneck is not on the LAN or WLAN side but can impact the end-user experience.

  • Application requirements - The type of applications running across a wireless AP will also affect the maximum number of clients that can be supported simultaneously. For example, if all clients are running high throughput applications such as 4K video streaming, a lesser number of clients will be supported as compared to when all clients are surfing the web.

  • Limitation of maximum clients per radio - Each WiFi-5 and WiFi-6 AP has two client-serving radios, one on each 2.4GHz and 5GHz, while WiFi-6E APs have three client-serving radios 2.4/5/6GHz.

    • Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1 and older: 128 clients per radio = 256 clients max per AP

    • Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 (MR20/30H/33/42/42E/52/53/53E/70/74/84): 256 clients per radio = 512 clients max per AP

    • Wi-Fi 6 (MR28/36/44/45/46/46E/55/56/76/78/86): 512 clients per radio = 1024 clients max per AP

    • Wi-Fi 6E (MR57, Cisco Catalyst Wireless models): 512 clients per radio = 1536 clients max per AP

The above list is only a theoretical maximum; in real-world deployment, interference caused by multiple clients communicating simultaneously will cause this limit to be far lower.  Just because a particular AP might theoretically handle 512 or 1024 maximum clients, this does not mean it is something we want to design for.  Always consider the types of clients connecting and their capabilities (technology level, spatial streams, channel width for example), the primary apps that will be in use, and ultimately what is going to be driving the airtime utilization to make the best determination for maximum (practical) clients per AP.

Resources for Improving Client Coverage

Ultimately, the recommended best practice for an optimal wireless deployment is to perform multiple site surveys to best understand and improve the RF environment. For a professional site survey, it is recommended to work with a qualified wireless contract, VAR, or Cisco Meraki Sales Engineer.

For additional information regarding site surveys and wireless coverage, please refer to the following articles.