The Future of Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6) – Part 1

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It appears 2019 will be a definitive moment in the short 29-year history of Wi-Fi. We will see the much-anticipated Wi-Fi 6 standard being ratified and the first major wireless security update since 2004. Yes, it has been a long time coming. WPA3 will start becoming the wireless security standard by the end of this year. In this blog I will discuss Wi-Fi 6 and what it means for you.

Wi-Fi 6 - What is it?

So, what is Wi-Fi 6 and should you care about it?

Wi-Fi 6 is the name given by the Wi-Fi Alliance for the soon-to-be-ratified IEEE 802.11ax wireless standard. This new naming convention aims to simplify the 802.11 standards to general Wi-Fi users - so they can tell what standard of Wi-Fi they are connected to.

I feel it is a good idea to make users more aware of the quality of their wireless connection like this. As with your mobile connectivity, you understand that when it says 4G you have a fast connection. But when it drops to 3G you know it’s not going to be as quick, and that you’ll need to move somewhere with better signal to gain a speedier connection.

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Increased speed

Every new technology is likely to be faster than its predecessor, and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is no exception. 802.11ax access points (APs) will be able to deliver up to 14Gbps (four times MIMO) through the air, which is incredible and will shift the long-standing view that the cable is faster than Wi-Fi.

However, more realistic speeds with four streams at 160Mhz channel width will be 3.5Gbps compared to the 800Mbps on Wi-Fi5/802.11ac. This will mean that mobile devices with two or three streams will easily achieve over 1Gbps.

More efficiency

One of the ways of achieving the higher speeds in Wi-Fi 6 is the significant advance in how efficiently the APs handle different clients with slower speeds. This accomplished by using a technic from 4G/LTE world which is orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA). Trying not to get into too much detail Wi-Fi6 now support Frequency division multiplexing.

So due to the nature of Wireless being a shared medium and only able to run at half duplex (only one device can transmit data at any one time. So, imagine a bar with only one bartender (channel). Only one order can be taken at any time. With previous standards there was technology implemented called MU MIMO (Multi-User Multi Input Multi Output) meant we got up to 4 bartenders severing on the bar. This meant we got 4x the speed of drink delivery. However, we still have to queue up in 4 queues and have to wait for slow people ordering complex cocktails and paying with coins while there are people behind that want a simple pint. What OFDMA does it splits the channel into hundreds of sub-channels each on a different frequency The signals are then turned orthogonally (at right angles), so they can be piled on top of each other and de-multiplexed.  This allows the AP to carve off a small partition of the channel to a slow client while giving the rest of the channel to another faster client.

Back to the bartender analogy imagine now that each of the four (can be up to 8) can perform multitasking, and while one client is paying, they can take the next order. So, this allows more orders (data transmissions) to be completed which means more people have the drinks they ordered.

Spatial Reuse (BSS Colouring)

One of the most common sources of interference is something called Co-channel interference where you have two APs on the same channel. Which means that when one AP is transmitting the other AP must stop. This reduces the performance and speed of both APs. This particularly an issue in the 2.4Ghz. Where we only have three non-overlapping channels. One great feature of Wi-Fi6 is Spatial Reuse or BSS Colouring. This is where each AP on a channel is assigned a Colour ID. Creating different zones for each AP or BSS (Basic Service set) So, when a client that is between two APs on the same channel. The AP/client checks before it is about to transmit whether it is clear to send and detects that there is a transmission happening it check the Colour ID of the transmission and if it does not match its colour ID then it knows it for another zone(BSS), and it will then transmit.

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This gives the clients and APs a bit more intelligence and will help to reduce the effect of having more than one AP on a channel. This should not be mistaken for a substitute to proper channel design

Will you be ready for Wi-Fi 6?

So to summarise, Wi-Fi 6 will be a reality this year. It will deliver higher speeds and more capacity due to the more efficient technology under the hood. As things stand, 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 has not been ratified, but this will happen by the end of this year.

You might be asking: “So what? There are no Wi-Fi 6 clients.”. Well, Samsung has announced that its new flagship Galaxy S10 is the first mobile phone to ship with Wi-Fi 6. This will mean the rest of the vendors follow suit imminently.

The Wi-Fi 6 clients are coming! Are you and your network ready to support them?

Want to discuss rolling out Wi-Fi 6 in your business? Complete the form below for a complimentary planning session with Matt.