3 Ways 802.11ax Makes Wi-Fi Better

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Introduced in 1997, the IEEE 802.11 standard, more commonly known as Wi-Fi, has continually evolved to address the need of increased speeds in enterprise Wi-Fi networks. Of late, however, data rate and throughput have become table stakes in any high-density WLAN deployment.

That's because there has been an explosion in the number of client devices per household. Offices and public spaces like malls, stadiums and concert venues also boast of highly dense client environments. The demand has shifted from "high speed Wi-Fi" to "fast and efficient Wi-Fi in extremely dense environments."

Enter 11ax. With the introduction of 802.11ax (also known as Wi-Fi 6), the wireless industry is now delivering bandwidth and efficiency several times that of the legacy 802.11b.

A quick recap of the key features of 11ax:

  1. Power save mode with enhancements to ensure that Wi-Fi scanning does not drain the battery of handheld and portable devices, including IoT devices.
  2. Uplink and downlink OFDMA is now mandatory, and as a result of the reduced congestion and overhead, high-density environments and large public venues will see a dramatic improvement in capacity.
  3. Uplink and downlink MU-MIMO, which was originally introduced in the downlink in the 11ac Wave 2 standard (MU-MIMO), will be included for the uplink in Wave 2 of 11ax. It allows multiple devices to simultaneously transmit at once, and that increases efficiency of the network.
  4. High-order modulation with 1024 QAM will bring a 25% increase in peak data rates under high signal-to-noise conditions.

And much more!

Another Wi-Fi Revolution is Here

A revolution is in store for large enterprises, service providers and end-users. Here are three ways 802.11ax will make the Wi-Fi user experience better:

1. Improved efficiency for large public venues and support for more data. Moving forward, "overall efficiency"  is the means to determine Wi-Fi performance, instead of the traditional throughput and speed measurements the industry has used for the last two decades.

An important enhancement in 11ax is a 4x longer duration of OFDM symbols as compared to 11ac. This drives increased efficiency and higher data rates. As a result, outdoor deployments such as on a large campus or in a stadium will see significantly better capacity and up to four times greater speeds for clients even at the cell boundaries.

Imagine a stadium full of happy sports fans, with phones in hand, streaming video and posting to social media over great Wi-Fi coverage. You read that right!

 Figure 1: Speed of client at cell edge

2. Improved battery life and power savings. 11ax enhances the power save mechanism in which the specific time to access wireless medium is negotiated between the AP and the clients. With the help of the new Target Wake Time (TWT) capability, the clients are made aware when it is their turn to transmit by a triggering mechanism that awakens the client at pre-negotiated times. With TWT, there is reduced contention for the medium between clients, and hence there is much less overlap between several users trying to transmit at the same time. The sleep time of Wi-Fi clients increases multifold.

Because of this capability, handheld or battery-powered portable devices can conserve more power than ever before. IoT devices also can make use of this power saving mechanism, and we expect to see more sensors and smart devices designed to take advantage of this capability.

Imagine spending the day at a public place such as a zoo or a shopping mall and reaching for your phone at the end of the day to see that the battery isn’t about to die. Yep!

Figure 2: Target Wake Time

3. Dual-band operation. The 11ac standard operates only in the 5GHz band. Unlike its predecessor, 11ax operates in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. 11ax aims at improving the efficiency of both bands, while providing backward compatibility with the previous amendments of the IEEE standard.

Many wireless devices today operate solely in the 2.4 GHz band, such as fitness watches, wearables, mesh links and certain cell phone radios. The 2.4 GHz band is widely used in healthcare industry as well. Improved spectral efficiency supports the explosive growth of devices in the 2.4 GHz band, providing a better Wi-Fi experience for legacy and new Wi-Fi client devices.

Imagine the innovation as the next wave of smart connected devices are invented. And the peaceful coexistence of old and new mobile devices.

802.11ax promises real-world performance improvements that will keep today’s mobile users and IoT devices connected and happy. I’m excited to see all the new possibilities!

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