If you’re in the market for new WLAN equipment in next year or two, you may have started the process of researching what’s coming down the IEEE wireless standards pipeline. After all, you don’t want to purchase a wireless technology only to see it become obsolete a few months later. That’s why it’s so important that IT decision makers understand what's ahead in wireless.
As of now, 802.11ac is the de-facto wireless connection method for new WLANs. But there are some new and emerging wireless standards to include in your research. In this blog, I'll cover four promising IEEE 802.11 standards that enterprise IT pros should consider in their WLAN planning.
If you’re looking for the successor to 802.11ac WiFi, the 802.11ax standard is at the top of the list. Like 802.11ac and 802.11n before it, the 802.11ax protocol operates in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency spectrum and utilizes hardware chips that are fully backwards compatible with previous WiFi standards. 802.11ax theoretical speeds are said to approach 10 Gbps in early tests.
Beyond the obligatory speed boost over 802.11ac, you’re also likely to see enhanced benefits in terms of high-density deployments and improved end-user battery life through advanced power-saving techniques. The 802.11ax standard is expected to reach final certification in 2019. But as has been the case with previous WLAN standards, look for wireless vendors to move ahead of the schedule; pre-standard 802.11ax WiFi hardware likely will show up sometime in 2018.
Technically an update to the already-certified 802.11ad (WiGig) standard, 802.11ay is a high-performance wireless technology that operates in the unlicensed 60 GHz frequency range. The advancements of 802.11ay improve on the original specification in both throughput and range; we’re talking about speeds between 20 and 40 Gbps and wireless ranges that reportedly reach upwards of 300 meters.
Unlike 802.11ax, which is far more likely to be used to connect end devices to the network, 802.11ay is expected to be used as a wireless-backhaul technology to connect multiple buildings in a campus, or to reach locations in a wireless mesh architecture. Expect the first 802.11ay-capable devices to start shipping in late 2017 and into 2018.
If you're looking at wireless to provide connectivity to hundreds or thousands of remote IoT sensors, the current 802.11ac standard falls short in some areas. This is where 802.11ah, also known as HaLow, comes in. 802.11ah operates in the unlicensed 900 MHz range, which significantly extends the operational range of a single access point. In addition to the range boost, the standard can support highly dense deployments of IoT sensors. This can translate into significant IoT deployment cost savings.
One potential downside is that the maximum throughput for 802.11ah is just shy of 350 Mbps. This is obviously far lower than 802.11ac, but probably sufficient for most IoT deployment needs.
At the same time, wireless IoT devices require far less power to communicate when compared to power requirements of 802.11ac devices. The power-savings capabilities of 802.11ah means that battery- operated IoT sensors become a far more realistic deployment option.
The final WiFi standard that the enterprise should keep tabs on is 802.11af, also known as Super WiFi or White-Fi. This standard takes advantage of unused “white space” frequencies that reside between television channels in the designated UHF-VHF spectrum between 54 and 790 MHz. While this white space can be used for a multitude of use cases, the primary purpose for 802.11af in the United States is for long-range wireless connectivity to rural areas.
Unlike the aforementioned IEEE standards, 802.11af requires an FCC license to operate. For that reason, it’s likely that carriers will license 802.11af frequencies and simply lease their use to enterprise customers. But for those of you that operate remote sites in locations where WAN/Internet connectivity options are limited, you’ll be happy to hear that a new connectivity alternative is on the horizon.