By Alex Braelow
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is on the horizon. By December of 2019, the specifications will be finalized and the future of Wi-Fi will have officially arrived. With it, a wave of updated devices promising next-generation networks with more speed and less congestion. Needless to say, this has caused quite a buzz in the wireless industry.
While we here at iPass have covered the topic of Wi-Fi 6 from a number of different angles (here, here, here, and here), we are just beginning to develop a more complete understanding of what high-efficiency wireless, and the next-generation networks it will build, will look like. Indeed, routers equipped with chips using draft specifications for Wi-Fi 6 are already arriving on the market and offering a glimpse of what we can come to expect.
With that said, Mark Turner, writing for TechSpot.com, has a great breakdown on the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi 6 technology. His article, titled Wi-Fi 6 Explained: The Next Generation of Wi-Fi, is well worth the read. However, it’s a bit of a deep dive for the casual reader, so we thought we’d capture the essential bits for you.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has adopted a new naming standard for Wi-Fi technology. While 802.11ax will now be known as Wi-Fi 6, 802.11ac and 802.11n will henceforth be referred to as Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4, respectively.
Wi-Fi 6 will offer improved capacity and performance, thus enabling more simultaneous connections. These improvements will be facilitated by the following:
- Wi-Fi 6 will be able to split spectrum bandwidth into narrower, and therefore more, sub-channels than its predecessors. Any given network will therefore be able to support more devices, and offer more avenues for users to communicate with access points.
- Wi-Fi 6 will borrow a variety of multi-user technologies from the cellular industry. These include MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input, multiple output) and OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access).
- Wi-Fi 6 will be able to “inform” users when a router is available instead of having them contend for access whether they are trying to connect or not.
As a result of these improvements, Wi-Fi 6 will have a single-user data rate that is 37% faster than Wi-Fi 5. However, it will also offer four times more throughput per user in crowded environments. As a side effect, the improved efficiency will also improve the battery life of connected devices.
Experts anticipate that Wi-Fi 6 will have a large impact on areas where networks are highly congested. Furthermore, they believe that the improved capacity and performance will enable Wi-Fi 6 to lay the foundation for upcoming smart infrastructure, especially as it relates to the Internet of Thing (IoT).
Industry leaders have determined that more spectrum is required to maintain an adequate quality of service heading into the Wi-Fi 6 era. In response to the FCC’s 2017 call for public comments regarding the expansion of mid-band spectrum between 3.7GHz and 24GHz, more than 30 technology companies, including giants like Qualcomm, submitted a proposal insisting that the 6GHz band is “essential to meeting demand for the next generation of wireless broadband services.” These companies proposed that the 6GHz band therefore be opened to unlicensed technologies and split into four sub-bands with different technical rules and interference protections.
If this proposal is accepted, then the allocation of the 6GHz band as unlicensed space will allow companies to use this frequency without filing for access with the FCC. It is expected that this sort of access, paired with Wi-Fi 6 technology, will encourage innovation and investment in the sector. In their proposal to the FCC, the companies wrote “By opening this entire band to unlicensed radio local access network operations, the Commission will allow us to bring consumers faster service, lower latency, and more pervasive coverage, and allow the nation to reap the economic and public safety benefits that are associated with unlicensed technologies."
In summation, Turner writes that Wi-Fi 6 promises “to deliver considerable increases in network efficiency and capacity for dense population centers, with moderate improvements to peak data rates, which will be sustained better across more devices at once.”
The problem then isn’t, as Qualcomm put it, how fast Wi-Fi can go, but if the Wi-Fi network has enough capacity to handle the growing demand for many different connected devices and services.