Weekly Tech Tidbit – The Wi-Fi Alliance is shaking up wireless standards once again….

February 8th, 2019
Weekly Tech Tidbit – The Wi-Fi Alliance is shaking up wireless standards once again….

Right about now most of us are getting fairly comfortable with our current 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless deployments.   But as we all know technology, and particularly wireless technology, never stands still.   So, Wi-Fi as we know it is about to get another major update.   This Tech Tidbit is going to give you a brief peak at what is coming at us in the next year or two.


What is in a name?

One of the first things everyone is going to notice is that in addition to all the technical changes the Wi-Fi Alliance has decided it is time for a new naming convention for wireless versions.   So, they are moving to a much simpler numbering-based system.

The technology we all use today (802.11ac) is going to start to be more commonly referred to as Wi-Fi 5.   Henceforth, the older 802.11n Wi-Fi will be known as Wi-Fi 4 and the next generation “high-efficiency” wireless standard (802.11ax) will hit the market and be known as Wi-Fi 6.

Expect to see devices and packaging start to use these new naming conventions very shortly.  You will see various graphic symbol versions on packaging that you will easily recognize as referring to wireless with a very prominent “4”, “5”, or “6” in the symbol to quickly tell you what version of wireless technology is in that product.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 main goals are all about improving wireless performance in areas crowded with wireless traffic.   Think cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums and other large group areas in your school buildings where lots of users with lots of Wi-Fi enabled devices are present all wanting to gain network access at the same time.   Also, think places like airports, stadiums and other large public areas.

Yes, there will of course be improved throughput for single clients, single-user throughput is reported to be 37% faster that Wi-Fi 5.   But the real significant gains are in crowded environments where Wi-Fi 6 should be up to 4x faster than Wi-Fi 5.   There are also changes built in to boost power efficiency to help improve end-client device battery life something we all can take advantage of.

Below is a list of some of the goals and features for Wi-Fi 6:

  • More overall bandwidth per user for ultra-HD and virtual reality streaming
  • Support for more simultaneous streams of data with increased throughput
  • More total spectrum (2.4GHz and 5GHz, eventually bands in 1GHz and 6GHz)
  • Spectrum split into more channels to enable more routes for communication
  • Packets contain more data and networks can handle different data streams at once
  • Improved performance (as much as 4x) at the maximum range of an access point
  • Better performance/robustness in outdoor and multi-path (cluttered) environments
  • Ability to offload wireless traffic from cellular networks where reception is poor

While Wi-Fi 6 will remain backward compatible with Wi-Fi 4 & 5 clients, the move to make the 6GHz spectrum available for unlicensed Wi-Fi 6 use is one of the more notable changes with the new technology.    And as demand for wireless use continues to explode expect to see more wireless spectrum made available as well.

At this point I am expecting to see some first releases of solid enterprise grade wireless products that support Wi-Fi 6 late this year.   The Wi-Fi 6 standard is scheduled for IEEE ratification sometime in Q3 of 2019.   Once that happens, we should see things begin to take off.

Don’t be surprised if you see some SOHO Wi-Fi 6 gear appear in the big box stores or even some “early adopter” enterprise gear from some of the more aggressive wireless vendors earlier than that.   Just be aware of the risks that those products might need more than just simple software updates to remain compatible with the final standards once released.

We will cover in more detail all of the technical changes coming with Wi-Fi 6 during one of our future Tech Talk / SYSOP sessions later this spring or early next fall.