Engineer’s Corner – Enterprise Networking

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced the standard for the next generation of Wi-Fi known as Wi-Fi 6, a new and uncommon naming convention that goes against industry standard 802.11 designations. To break it down, here is what Wi-Fi 6 translates to along with other well-known technologies:

Wi-Fi 6 → 802.11ax
Wi-Fi 5 → 802.11ac
Wi-Fi 4 → 802.11n
Wi-Fi 3 → 802.11g
Wi-Fi 2 → 802.11a
Wi-Fi 1 → 802.11b

When we think of past generational improvements to Wi-Fi, the main focus is the increased capabilities of bandwidth. Wi-Fi 6 delivers with a single stream of 802.11ax communication that has a potential speed of 1.2Gbps at a 160MHz channel width. Comparing this to 802.11ac it can only achieve 866Mbps for a similar-sized stream. However, this all depends on the configuration and settings, such as the chosen channel width.

Speed is great if you are the only client on an access point, but today’s client capacity per access point is a far more valuable metric. Wi-Fi 6 makes use of a feature called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) that breaks up a single Wi-Fi channel into smaller frequency chunks called resource units. By utilizing these resource units/sub-channels, the access point can communicate with a multitude of devices at the same time, which decreases overall congestion and latency for all wireless clients. This is one of the many ways that Wi-Fi 6 is allowing for increased client-counts per access point while still maintaining usable, low-latency, network performance.

Another improvement for clients is a feature called Target Wake Time that allows a device to negotiate how often it is waking from sleep to send data, instead of needing to constantly check in with the wireless network. This reduces wireless network load as well as help conserve or extend battery life on portable client devices.

Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 is particularly important for organizations with customer-facing applications that depend on public wireless access. Hospitality and retail enterprises want to interface with guests and customers via their mobile device of choice. In a hotel, for example, guests expect the same connectivity performance that they have in their corporate or home network. Network performance now leaves a palatable taste with users and the better the performance the happier the end user.

In retail, customers want to use their mobile apps to find deals, send photos and videos of merchandise to friends, and use mobile payments. Deep inside a mall with weak LTE coverage, an overloaded Wi-Fi results in customer frustration and lost sales. For expansive indoor spaces, Wi-Fi 6 provides peerless coverage and roaming, fast onboarding, and the capacity to handle hundreds of connections simultaneously.

In the education sector, students visiting prospective campuses will immediately notice if the Wi-Fi coverage meets their expectations for performance. Students expect a flawless wireless experience in lecture halls where everyone has laptops and mobile devices operating all at once and demand that classwork files and videos can be instantly downloaded and streamed. In high-density environments like these, Wi-Fi 6 excels at meeting the demand for fast onboarding, stable connectivity, and low latency. Even in an environment with mixed Wi-Fi 5 and 6-capable devices, everyone benefits from the more efficient use of existing bandwidth if the access points are Wi-Fi 6 capable.

In these cases, the Wi-Fi 6 tide is in and it’s time to get your network up to date to keep up with customer’s, guest’s, and student’s expectations and take advantage of the latest innovation in wireless connectivity.

Michael Ahladianakis, Solution Architect

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