Wi-Fi 6: Why We Need It and What It Isn’t

By Nick Shoemaker, Blog Contributor

Wireless networks have been around for a long time. We all know the history of the industry starting as a nice-to-have feature that could work without a cable. Today, wireless has become the primary medium for connectivity in most industries and most households. As the shift has occurred, wireless technology has had to try and keep up. The latest phase of this race is the 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6, amendment.

Why Do We Need Wi-Fi 6?
By now everyone has heard that 5G is coming and the crazy fast speeds that it will bring from the cellular side of things. We will look at that more in another post. But Wi-Fi is fighting the same issues as cellular in today’s world. We are oversubscribed on Wi-Fi. Speeds suffer because of older technology. Wireless is the primary connection method of almost every device in the world and IoT is coming. Enter Wi-Fi 6.

To be upfront as we begin this, ratification of the 802.11ax standard looks to be at least a year away, with most stating a date of September 2020 before it will happen. Even without full ratification, manufacturers are starting to put out access points and a few clients are starting to trickle into the market. Aruba has launched it line of Wi-Fi 6 access points, which we saw in production at Atmosphere this year. The experience was seemless and worked well during the conference.

So with formal ratification still a year away, why do we need to worry about Wi-Fi 6 now? Wi-Fi 6 is more about capacity than speed. As more and more devices are accessing the wireless network, bottlenecks begin appearing. The way Wi-Fi 6 handles this is a trick taken from the cellular industry with Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). The easiest way to explain it is we are taking a highway that has eight lanes today and then funnels to a one lane road. Huge bottlenecks occur and all traffic grinds to a halt like on the 405 in California. Now with Wi-Fi 6 and OFDMA, those eight lanes stay eight lanes and traffic can flow freely. With these extra ‘lanes,’ capacity is now increased. This is the key part of Wi-Fi 6. Read this great white paper on the traffic lanes analogy with well-done diagrams.

We have all heard about the speeds and how fast we can now send and receive traffic on Wi-Fi 6, but capacity is the key to the system. More capacity equals more opportunities for devices to be serviced on the network, especially for time-senstive data like voice and video over Wi-Fi. As we move to mobility first workplaces and stop pulling cables to desks, wireless is more and more important. Design is ever more complex now for wireless and how we can use the spectrum smarter to allow more of these devices to function and function well.

The key to the new amendment for 802.11ax is not all about speed. It is about capacity. We need to be looking at how we handle this time-sensitive data and not how we push the data faster. With Wi-Fi 6, the speed is there if you have the right client. But how do we service that least-capable device and make that function as if it is a Wi-Fi 6 device? Capacity is the key and as we continue to add more devices (i.e. IoT), wireless first deployments, and nurse call devices. Wi-Fi 6 is the key to solving this issue and granting that capacity we so badly need.

Read the Aruba white paper, What is 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Why Do You Need It?

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Wi-Fi 6: Why We Need It and What It Isn’t