New applications, an explosion in mobile device use, and IoT are driving Wi-Fi connectivity needs through the roof. 802.11ax tries to address the issues while creating new opportunities and services.
Whether you’re in education, retail, healthcare, or hospitality, Wi-Fi is essential. It helps students learn, mobile transactions occur, doctors share information, and fans engage.
However, the insatiable appetite for Wi-Fi creates challenges. Hospitals struggle to meet the demands of their diverse users (doctors, nurses, technicians, patients, guests) and devices (infusion pumps, EMR mobile, IoT devices) all competing for the same airwaves. Educational institutions struggle with the dense user environment in their lecture halls and auditoriums. Retailers are challenged to deliver tech-driven customer experiences for in-store shoppers. And hotels, faced with an 8 to 10x increase in mobile devices running high bandwidth services like Netflix and YouTube, cannot add Wi-Fi bandwidth fast enough. Fortunately, help is at hand. The next generation of Wi-Fi helps address these real-life issues and creates new opportunities and services. Now let’s get into the details.
Wi-Fi turns six
In less than two decades, Wi-Fi has evolved from "nice to have" to "essential," now viewed as a "utility" like electricity or water. Each generation of Wi-Fi introduces new, enhanced capabilities and 6th Generation Wi-Fi is no different. Supporting a range of capabilities (e.g., OFDMA, Multiuser Uplink, smaller subcarrier spacing, 1024 QAM), it allows more devices, more users and more IoT devices to connect with less.
While prior generations of Wi-Fi addressed greater performance, 802.11ax addresses greater capacity. It supports more devices simultaneously and makes better use of available spectrum with increased efficiencies. 802.11ax allows different types of traffic (e.g., high bandwidth video, voice, low bandwidth IoT traffic) to be bundled together to be more efficiently transported. To use a simple postal analogy: instead of sending separate parcels for each traffic type – often with empty space in each parcel – all the traffic is packaged into one parcel for more efficient transport.
Supporting dense device environments
The pervasive use of mobile devices and data-hungry applications has created an insatiable appetite for Wi-Fi capacity. This is acerbated in dense user environments such as lecture halls, auditoriums, and dormitories where many Wi-Fi devices contend for the same airwaves. 802.11ax introduces several new technology building blocks to address these challenging environments. This includes OFDMA and an uplink/downlink resource scheduler, designed to manage airtime utilization and improve spectral efficiency.
Optimized IoT support
802.11ax supports Flexible Channel Sizes and Resource Units that allow operators to offer more efficient IoT support – and better scale to address the thousands of IoT devices that will be connecting to Wi-Fi networks around the globe. In addition, IoT devices that require lower data rates can use narrow dedicated channels to save power.
802.11ax compliance and compatibility
To experience the full benefits of 802.11ax, both the AP and client should be 802.11ax compliant. While the new 802.11ax standard will be backward-compatible with the older 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards, enterprises should do an assessment of the clients in their environment. Legacy client radios will continue to dominate the market for many years, and this should be factored into 802.11ax migration plans.
The Wi-Fi certification process is important. Currently, the 802.11ax standard is expected to be ratified in 2019. However, there is still uncertainty as to the exact timing and how long the certification process will take. Enterprises should exercise caution in purchasing early, pre-ratified 802.11ax solutions to ensure their investment is protected.