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The Benefits of Wi-Fi 6

By Alex Braelow

benefits of wi-fi 6

Earlier this month, Rishi Grover, Sr. Director of Product Management, Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS Company, posted an opinion piece over at RCRWirelessNews. The piece, titled Exploring the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 (Reader Forum), made some keen observations about the major trends in the Wi-Fi industry.

Grover began with a summary of the Wi-Fi landscape, noting that Wi-Fi is increasingly considered a basic human need, and that it is offered across a wide range of locations, including: carpeted enterprises, school and office campuses, stadiums, airports, hotels, MDUs, and transportation hubs. The consequence of this, as Grover indicates, is that Wi-Fi data consumption continues to outpace cellular. The Cisco VNI forecast, for instance, postulates that Wi-Fi will carry 2.5x more global internet traffic than cellular by 2021.

In addition, recent FCC activity has encouraged something of an innovation goldrush. Indeed, promises of increased availability of unlicensed spectrum, coupled with increasingly complex Wi-Fi use cases — including in the Internet of Things (IoT), smart homes, outdoor deployments, and high-density environments — has the industry poised to take some giant leaps in the next few years.

Improved performance in high-density environments is something that especially excites Grover. He wrote: “High-density environments present a formidable challenge for today’s already overloaded Wi-Fi networks. The harsh reality of limited spectrum is further compounded by the fact that the number of wireless users and clients continues to increase, with approximately 9 billion Wi-Fi devices shipped cumulatively.”

Certainly, a new allotment of spectrum would go a long way. However, if the industry wishes to accomodate a wider range of devices, applications, and services, additional spectrum must in turn be augmented with higher performing Wi-Fi.

“The explosion of connected devices and traffic requires a more efficient wireless implementation than is offered by today’s network,” said Grover. “802.11 evolution (a, b, g, n, ac) has delivered increasingly higher data rates with improved modulation, channel bonding, and MIMO. In fact, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) has done a phenomenal job of reaching gigabit throughput rates. However, the nuances of real-life Wi-Fi usage, particularly in high density scenarios, prevents users from benefiting from higher data rates.”

According to Grover, the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard bucks this trend by focusing on efficiency instead of raw data rate. It is intelligently deterministic, rather than arbitrarily contention-based, and Wi-Fi 6 access points make effective use of spectrum and optimize throughput in dense and congested environments.

In his piece, Grover outlined the primary features and benefits of access points built according to the Wi-Fi 6 standard. Specifically, he mentioned simultaneous multi-user transmissions, uplink resource scheduling, spatial reuse, improved power efficiency of station, improved indoor and outdoor operations, and higher order modulation. He goes into some detail for each, and it’s well worth a read.

Delivering fast and reliable Wi-Fi coverage in high-density deployment scenarios with Wi-Fi 5 access points is increasingly difficult. 4K video streaming and other forms of immersive content are putting more and more strain on the current Wi-Fi standard. However, Wi-Fi 6 offers up to a four-fold capacity increase over its predecessor.

Grover leaves with this: “With Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), multiple APs deployed in dense device environments can collectively deliver required quality-of-service to more clients with more diverse usage profiles. From our perspective, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is playing a critical role in helping Wi-Fi evolve into a collision-free, deterministic wireless technology that significantly increases aggregate network throughput to address high-density venues and beyond.”