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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.

Top 7 Wireless Best Practices for Better Wi-Fi Coverage & User Experiences

Many of us face slow Wi-Fi and connectivity issues on wireless networks. Just the other day, I was in a café having coffee and browsing the internet. Suddenly, my connectivity dropped. I tried to reconnect, but the signal strength was too low. In the end, I gave up.

I am sure you have faced the same issue. Usually, at this point, you might blame the wireless network and question the capability of the access point (AP). But did you know often this is not the case? Mostly, the AP is not to blame. Connectivity problems arise due to improper designing and planning of the wireless network. Below are some of the best practices that you can follow to provide the best user experience from your wireless network.

  • Perform a site survey before installing access points

Before deploying your AP, it is critical you understand your environment and the type of deployment you require. Would you prefer coverage over density, or vice versa? To ensure the café scenario doesn’t happen, plan your network based on density. This ensures you are prepared for data traffic during peak hours on your wireless network.

Performing a site survey before deploying your wireless network can help with determining how many access points are required, and what type of coverage you can expect with your APs. Advanced site survey tools, such as SonicWall’s Wi-Fi Planner, will be able to predict the coverage automatically. This tool also lets you choose the coverage zones, and identifies what type of obstacles and areas are present in your location.

Wifi Planner

SonicWall’s Wi-Fi Planner uses heat maps to help you accurately design a dense, secure and reliable wireless environment.

  • Before plugging in your AP, check if it requires 802.3af or 802.3at

It is essential to check the power compliance of your AP before connecting it to your network. The maximum power from an 802.3af source is 15.4W, whereas 802.3at is 50W. If you are plugging an 802.3af-complaint AP into an 802.3at power source, make sure that your power supply is backward compatible with 802.3af devices. If not, your AP could be fried.

  • Max AP power does not mean max performance

Blasting your AP at full power does not ensure maximum performance. While it would showcase more coverage, the user experience may be impacted.

Think about two people in a room. They are in close proximity to each other, trying to have a conversation, and both of them are screaming at the top of their voices at the same time. Neither of the two would be able to understand each other and carry out a meaningful conversation. Similarly, based on your environment, it is essential to tweak the transmit power of the AP.

  • AP mounting is critical for ubiquitous coverage

APs are built to work in certain use cases or environments. For instance, an indoor, integrated-antenna AP is designed to work as a ceiling-mount AP in spaces like indoor office environments. This is because the APs with integrated, omni-directional antennas have a 360 degree radiation pattern. Much like the sun radiating rays, the omni-directional access points radiate RF signals. Barriers like walls, concrete and metal partitions can cause RF blockage.

  • Use 20 MHz or 40 MHz channels for high-density deployments

For high-density deployments, it is essential to choose lower channel widths, such as 20 MHz and 40 MHz. With 80MHz channels, there are just five non-overlapping channels, while for 160 MHz, there are only two non-overlapping channels. This makes it hard to deploy the higher channel widths without causing co-channel interference. Higher channel widths are ideal for low-density, high-performance requirements.

  • Deploy indoor APs every 60 feet for high-density deployments

APs should be deployed based upon your coverage or density requirements. For high-density, high-bandwidth requirements, deploy your APs every 60 feet. Make sure your Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) stays above -65 dBm. Up to -65 dBm is recommended for VOIP and streaming.

  • Disable lower data rates

Based on your coverage design, it is advisable to turn off lower data rates below 24 Mbps. This ensures that the AP and client do not communicate at, say, 6 Mbps, which could result in low performance and lead to a poor user experience.

To learn more about wireless networking best practices, read our solution brief, “Best Practices for Wired, Wireless and Mobile Security.”

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Securing Wireless in Retail Stores

Not too long ago my wife and I went out to a nice restaurant for dinner. When it was time to pay, the waiter took my credit card and swiped it using a portable credit card processing device. Being in the security industry, I couldn’t help but wonder if the transaction was secure. After all, wireless connections are a vector hackers use to steal customer account information from retail vendors. Since I wanted to enjoy the evening I let that thought go for the time being.

When I got back to the office I started to think more about the level of security retail point-of-sale businesses have for their wireless networks. After all, wireless has become an important tool vendors use not only to take payments, but also as a way to provide customers with more value. Think about it. When we go into a store we can access product information over WiFi. We can redeem coupons over our mobile device. We can get information on promotional offers. There’s a lot available to keep customers interested and loyal.

It’s a two-way street though. Retailers are also collecting data on customers. For example, once we connect to their WiFi or pay our bill using a wireless point-of-sale (POS) payment card reader they can learn more about our shopping habits, the device we’re using, how long we’re connected and more. While all this gives us a more personalized shopping experience, it also helps retailers sell more products, in theory at least. Sounds like a win-win, right? Sure, as long as all the data that travels across the wireless network is secured. But that’s the issue. How do consumers know their personal information is secured over the wireless network? For retailers, how do they ensure their wireless network is secured from attack?

Wilson Lee, a colleague of mine, recently wrote in his blog that “It doesn’t matter whether you are a Fortune 100 company or a small business, the chances are that your Internet doorway is under attack more than your brick and mortar doorway.” His point is that when it comes to theft, it’s not just the physical door to your store that you should be concerned about. The fact is, small retail stores often serve as a point of entry to a corporate network which could result in a larger breach.

How popular is the use of wireless with retail businesses? A survey of retail IT professionals from EarthLink, IHL Group and AirTight Networks revealed that 82 percent of midsize-to-large retailers have deployed in-store WiFi, and 57 percent offer WiFi to both employees and customers. So, if you’re a retailer with a wireless LAN that’s used both internally and by customers, what steps can you take to help secure your wireless network from attack? Here are some basic “do’s” and “don’ts.

Don’t

  • Use basic or default passwords to access your wireless network that are easy to figure out or find on the Internet.
  • Use the name of the store as the wireless service set identifier or SSID.
  • Allow customers on the same wireless LAN as your internal staff and business systems. Keep them separate.
  • Don’t use WEP (wired equivalent privacy) to secure your network. It’s not very secure.

Do

  • Adopt a multi-layered security approach to avoid single point of failure.
  • Consider using a site survey tool before you roll out your WLAN. You might just find some unauthorized (rogue) access points.
  • Create a stringent security policy for wireless access and then allow exceptions.
  • Have your wireless traffic go through a next-generation firewall to scan for and eliminate threats.
  • Run intrusion detection and prevention (IDP) to identify rogue access points and prevent connections to the devices. This is a requirement for PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance.
  • Create a “walled garden” for customer only access that is separate from internal users through virtual access point segmentation and wireless guest services.

The use of wireless in retail locations continues to increase, both from the consumer and business perspectives, making it a potential vector for attack. To learn more about how you can protect your business and POS systems from attack, read this white paper.

Why Dual-Radio Wireless Makes Sense

You’ve decided to make the move to high-speed wireless. Maybe you’re upgrading to 802.11ac or you’re building a new wireless network from scratch. Either way, you’ve got to decide whether the access points you’re going to purchase will have a single radio or dual radios. If price is an issue, choosing an access point with only one radio will save you a little money. However is that the best decision for your wireless networking needs? Here’s why purchasing dual-radio access points makes financial and practical sense.

Dual-radio access points offer several advantages over those with a single radio.

  1. Extend your investment in 802.11x standards – An access point with two radios allows you to dedicate one radio to 802.11ac clients (laptops, tablets and smartphones) and the other to legacy 802.11b/g/n clients. If you still have a significant investment in devices supporting older wireless standards, a dual radio access point helps you extend that investment until you’re ready to upgrade.
  2. Use bandwidth-intensive services – Similarly, dual-radio access points allow you to dedicate one radio to services such as Voice over IP, streaming video and others that take up large amounts of bandwidth while your clients connect to the other radio without being negatively impacted by the services.
  3. Enhance wireless security – Having multiple radios enables you to enhance the security of your wireless network in two ways. First, you can use one radio for employees and provide them with access to internal resources while everyone else (guests, partners, etc.) connects to the second radio which offers internet-only access. Second, having a second radio allows you to use one for wireless intrusion detection and prevention scanning including scanning for rogue access points while the other is used to provide client access. Having only one radio would require all users to disconnect in order to perform the scan and then reconnect again later.
  4. Achieve better signal quality – The 802.11ac wireless standard operates in the less-crowded 5 GHz frequency band, providing better signal quality. Dedicating one radio to 5 GHz and the other to 2.4 GHz enables you to take advantage of the higher signal quality 802.11ac offers while still supporting legacy 802.11b/g/n clients over 2.4 GHz thanks to backward compatibility.
  5. Realize higher client capacities – Very simply, an access point with two radios allows you to have more WiFi-enabled devices connected at the same without experiencing signal interference.

Secure, high-speed wireless

If you have access points with multiple radios then you’re in position to realize the advantages listed above. If you’re looking at purchasing new access points, consider the benefits dual-radio solutions provide over those with a single radio. SonicWall offers several dual-radio access points as part of its SonicPoint Series. The SonicWall SonicPoint ACe and SonicPoint ACi feature two radios, one dedicated to 802.11ac and the other to 802.11n, while the SonicPoint N2 includes two 802.11n radios. Read more about the SonicPoint Series and how these secure, high-speed access points can help your organization.

Tips for Deploying Wireless in Your Small Business

As a product manager in the security industry I have the opportunity to travel all over the world. On my trips it’s been very rare that I’ll find a location that does not provide some sort of wireless access. Even the most remote locations that may have a small coffee shop, eating establishment or small gathering area offer WiFi. Today it should be a no brainer for businesses of all kinds to provide wireless access to employees and maybe even extend this to their guests.

Most employees use mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Looking at the latest laptop models online most, if not all, come standard with an 802.11ac wireless adapter and you would be hard pressed to find a smaller laptop that has a LAN network interface which does not require an additional dongle or add-on cable.

Now let’s look at what it will take to roll out a wireless deployment for a small business properly and securely.

To begin with, initiate a site survey for the building. This will help you figure out how many access points you will need to provide awesome wireless coverage throughout the structure. It will also enable you to determine whether there are any issues with walls, microwaves or anything else that may interfere with the wireless signal.

Next, decide if you want to provide guest access. If you do, you will need to understand the wireless security requirements you’ll need to enforce, such as setting up a virtual access point, enforcing the use of encryption or leaving the guest access open, but requiring authentication to a captive portal, similar to what airports may use before guests are able to access the internet.

For employee wireless security you can require standards-based WPA2 encryption and decide if you will use PSK or EAP which require an authentication server. For an additional level of security you can mandate the use of SSL VPN to access company resources over the wireless network.

With this new wireless network you will also need to take into consideration the security of the traffic going into and out of the wireless network for both employees and guests. This may include adding content/web filtering as a way to limit access to sites that could contain malware, and scanning all traffic through a deep packet inspection engine to look for potential intrusions and malware-based attacks that could impact employee or guest devices.

Additionally, you will want to enforce application-level bandwidth controls on the wireless network to ensure employees and guests don’t consume all the Internet bandwidth watching HD movies or downloading content.

Now that you’ve read through some of the basic requirements for deploying a wireless network, it might be a good time to get in contact with your local reseller or partner who can help with the planning, deployment and ongoing management of your wireless network.

Three Reasons to Make The Jump to 802.11ac

Back in 2013 we started to hear about the next leap forward in wireless technology, 802.11ac. Then last year, we began to see WiFi-enabled products enter the market that integrated the new standard. Now, it’s getting harder to find the latest laptop, tablet or mobile phone that doesn’t come with 802.11ac as a standard feature. The previous wireless standard, 802.11n, will be phased out in the coming years. Given all this, is it time for your organization to upgrade its wireless access points (WAPs) to models that run 802.11ac?

The crux of the decision comes down to cost versus benefit. How much is it going to cost me to replace my existing WAPs or add new ones to my network? The answer is, it varies. You can purchase a low-end 802.11ac access point for a little over $100. On the other end of the spectrum a higher-end WAP can cost up to $1,000. Why the discrepancy? Pricing is based on the number of radios and antennas, quality of the internal components, software features and a few other factors. If you own a small- or mid-sized organization you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles. There are plenty of solutions that will allow you to take advantage of 802.11ac at a price that makes it worth your while.

Given the cost, what’s so compelling about 802.11ac WAPs that you should consider making the jump? After all, there’s a good chance most of the WiFi-ready devices accessing your network are still using 802.11n. Partly it’s planning for the future. It’s estimated that there will be more than 1 billion WiFi devices based on 802.11ac by the end of this year, and that number will only be going to grow. At some point you’re going to replace those old laptops and tablets and 802.11ac will be the only wireless option on the new devices. But what are the reasons that will really make it worth your while? Here are three.

  • Superior wireless performance – 802.11ac promises up to 1.3 Gbps of wireless throughout, 3x that of 802.11n. It’s likely you won’t see that level of performance since there are many factors that influence throughput. However there’s no denying the significant speed increase 802.11ac brings. Faster performance means faster access to information which translates into higher employee productivity. Not only that, it allows your employees to utilize higher-bandwidth mobile and collaboration apps such as streaming HD video and SharePoint without experiencing the same signal degradation you get with 802.11n.
  • Enhanced signal quality – Faster speeds are a great thing. So is having a high-quality wireless signal. The 802.11ac standard operates in the 5 GHz frequency band, which has fewer wireless devices competing for airspace and is therefore less prone to signal interference. In addition, 802.11ac uses wider 80 MHz channels and has more non-overlapping channels than 802.11n, which operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Add these up and the result is better signal quality.
  • Backward compatibility – Like earlier wireless standards, 802.11ac is backward compatible. This means your 802.11a/b/g/n devices can still connect to an 802.11ac access point. So, if you have a significant investment in devices using these standards you’re in luck. Even better, if you choose an access point with dual radios and one of the radios supports 802.11ac, you can dedicate one radio to devices using 802.11ac and the other to devices running the older standards.

Making the move to wireless access points that support 802.11ac is going to cost you some money. Depending on your requirements, it doesn’t need to be that much. The performance benefits of high-speed wireless generally justify the expense and you’ll be setting your organization up for the future when every WiFi-enabled device you purchase comes standard with 802.11ac. SonicWall offers a family of high-speed 802.11ac wireless access points called the SonicPoint Series. Read more about how these secure, high-speed access points can help your organization.