Is 802.11ax Going Away? And What is Wi-Fi 6?

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced a change in the Wi-Fi naming standards. Yep. That’s right. The terms that you are now used to — like 802.11ax, 802.11ac and 802.11n — are being replaced with a much simpler naming scheme: Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4, respectively.

Anything that predates 802.11n isn’t officially getting a name change. This move from Wi-Fi Alliance is aimed at making it simpler for manufacturers and consumers to understand and use the technologies. Along with the new names, they get new logos as well. However, from a regulatory and specification standpoint, the names still retain its techy naming scheme: IEEE 802.11.

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, in the official announcement. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

New Wi-Fi Naming Standards

  • Wi-Fi 6 identifies devices that support 802.11ax technology
  • Wi-Fi 5 identifies devices that support 802.11ac technology
  • Wi-Fi 4 identifies devices that support 802.11n technology

Source: Wi-Fi Alliance

According to a new study by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the global economic value of Wi-Fi will reach $1.96 trillion this year and increase to $3.5 trillion by 2023. To keep up with the proliferation of Wi-Fi devices, it is essential to introduce technologies to keep pace with the changing tides. One of the most talked about wireless technologies in the recent times is the 802.11ax standard, or Wi-Fi 6.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is currently deemed the future of Wi-Fi. Why? This is because it introduces significant wireless enhancements over the current Wi-Fi 5 technology.

With the rise in the number of devices and bandwidth-intensive applications, one of the biggest challenges we face on Wi-Fi networks is poor performance. In addition to having high, system-wide throughput, it is also essential to ensure high performance on a per-client basis, specifically for high-density use cases.

This is where Wi-Fi 6 could greatly improve performance, concurrent connections and business productivity. The significant benefits introduced by Wi-Fi 6 include:

  • Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) Wi-Fi 6 introduces OFDMA, which is an enhancement over orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), a technology that is used in Wi-Fi 5 and dates back to the 802.11a era. OFDM allows only one transmission at a time. OFDMA, in comparison, divides a channel into resource units to allow multiple communications simultaneously.With Wi-Fi 6, each resource unit can be as low as 2MHz and as high as 160MHz. This enables multiple data transmissions across multiple devices at the same time, improving overall network efficiency and capacity. Doing so allows frequencies to be divided into smaller subcarriers so that traffic can be coordinated to serve more packets from more devices, increasing the network’s capacity.
  • Upstream and Downstream Multi-User Multiple-In Multiple-Out (MU-MIMO)
    With Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2, MU-MIMO was restricted to only downstream communication, whereas Wi-Fi 6 adds support for MU-MIMO in both upstream and downstream communications. Previously, only the wireless access point (AP) could transmit data to clients simultaneously. Now, clients can transmit data simultaneously back to the AP.
  • 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM)
    Wi-Fi 5 supports 256 QAM, while Wi-Fi 6 can support 1024 QAM. This denser modulation enables a speed burst of more than 35 percent. This boosts Wi-Fi performance and is most effective for users closer to the access point.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT)
    This mechanism enables AP and client devices to coordinate wake times when devices need to be awake. Doing so improves efficiency, reduces contention and enables power-saving by identifying times when the devices will be awake to send or receive data. This is especially useful in the Internet of Things (IoT) space, leading to significant power-savings for battery-powered devices.
  • Enhancement to 5GHz and 2.4GHz Frequency Bands
    Unlike the Wi-Fi 5 standard that introduced enhancement to only the 5GHz band, Wi-Fi 6 introduces enhancement to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Data speed of up to 9.6 Gbps is possible with Wi-Fi 6. Enhancements offered by Wi-Fi 6 boost average per-client performance by up to four times in comparison with Wi-Fi 5. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 is backwards-compatible with older technologies like Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4.

Solving Challenges with the Wi-Fi 6 Wireless Standard

Wi-Fi 6 is designed for IoT and high-density deployments, including stadiums, universities, shopping malls, transportation hubs, where there are large congregations of people.

At this point in time, Wi-Fi 6 technology is still being amended. The finalized draft is expected in late 2019. Until the standard is finalized, it is not advisable to purchase Wi-Fi 6 products.

In addition, there are no real-world clients to benefit from the Wi-Fi 6 enhancements. Let’s face it, even the latest Apple iPhone XS doesn’t even support Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2. The time is right to expand your network on Wi-Fi 5, as it still gaining traction.

SonicWall offers cutting-edge Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 access points to address the growing needs of Wi-Fi 5 devices. To learn more about how you can securely expand your network, click here.

Executive Brief: Securing the Next Wave of Wireless

Wireless connectivity is ubiquitous in today’s mobile, global economy. Wireless devices range from smartphones and laptops to security cameras and virtual reality headsets. Businesses need to recognize and address their need for high quality, performance and security across wireless networks and endpoints.

Srudi Dineshan on Twitter
Srudi Dineshan
Product Marketing Manager | SonicWall
As the product marketing manager for the SonicWall secure wireless access product line, Srudi is responsible for marketing strategies, content creation and product launches. Prior to her role at SonicWall, she served as a competitive technical marketing engineer with Aruba Networks. During this time, she worked on multiple competitor solutions and gained over four years of wireless expertise. Srudi holds an M.S. in Telecommunication and Network Management from Syracuse University and various certifications such as CWNA, CCNA, SPM and PMC.
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