• Matt Sherif

802.11ax - Isn't WiFi fast enough? Why Should I care?

With 802.11ac Waves 1 and 2 becoming more widely available, many people may find themselves asking "Isn't WiFi fast enough already? Why should I care about a faster wireless experience? Especially when internet speeds haven't caught up?". It's true, every iteration of the 802.11 standard has improved the user experience in regards to speed, reliability, overall performance, and security. But why should you care? We'll explore a few reasons 802.11ax can be a game changer for you.


What is 802.11ax

802.11 is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) set of specifications that govern how wireless ethernet - what we know as WiFi - is implemented. The 'ax' indicates revision in the standard, formally known as a Request for Comment (RFC). In short 802.11ax is the latest version of the wireless ethernet standard. The WiFi Alliance, a consortium of wireless device manufacturers who ensure that all manufacturers interpret the standard in a way that allows for interoperability, for example, your HP company laptops being able to talk to a Ruckus Wireless WiFi system.



Smart cities are driving higher density and capacity from wireless networks


Density

As I mentioned in our last article, thanks to the IoT, Gartner anticipates the number of wireless devices to reach 38 billion by 2020, and each iteration of the 802.11 standard has increased the throughput of WiFi by at least double, as a result an infrastructure that can handle the higher workload is needed, 802.11ax provides that in improved performance in a few ways.


The star of the show here is OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access), simply put, where the AP would have previously sent the packets sequentially in series, OFDMA allows the AP to use RF 'lanes' to send the data in parallel. Compare this to a 2 lane highway with 10 cars, versus a 10 lane highway with 10 cars, each has its own lane.


Improved Multi-User MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) which increases the number of clients that can talk to the AP at once, instead of only one at a time. With 802.11ac, MU-MIMO was only available in the downstream - client facing - direction, but when the client needed to talk to the AP, it was not. With 802.11ax MU-MIMO is available in both directions. This allows for greater throughput, and improved airtime, allowing other clients to communicate sooner and quicker as well.


The above makes MU-MIMO great for large file transfers over WiFi, whereas OFDMA is better for smaller packet transfers. The good news is, you don't need to care which is used, as that decision rests with the AP.


Speed

Arguably the most looked at improvement that 802.11ax, as many of the other improvements are "secret sauce" that happens in the background - and for good reason, the user shouldn't need to care about that. 802.11ax is anticipated to have a top speed around 10Gbps, while others say it's calculated as high as 14Gbps, this remains to be seen when the standard is finally ratified by the IEEE (the body that controls networking standards), and manufacturers start releasing ratified ax hardware, currently everything is built off of the 802.11ax draft RFC.


Reliability

Building on 802.11ac's beamforming specification, 802.11ax can direct radio energy - packets - to users in different locations, this akin to looking at someone when you're speaking to them, rather than just one direction. The radio calculates the path to each device, and attempts to "steer" each beam to its respective user.


Other manufacturers have implemented proprietary means to improve on the beamforming specification, Ruckus Wireless for example, have their BeamFlex+ which directs the RF energy to the client, but also sends the signal complimentary to the client's orientation (Laying down, upright, diagonal), this is known as signal polarity.


Other reliability measures are a result of OFDMA provides control over signal modulation and transmit power, this gives the AP enough control to define Quality of Service (QoS) parameters to each stream.


Do I need 802.11ax?

If you're asking the above questions, consider the following:

  • Does your business operate in a dense environment, with a lot of wireless clients? Some examples are, but not limited to: convention centers, auditoriums, stadiums, smart cities, manufacturing facilities

  • Does your business rely on WiFi for mission critical day to day operations?

  • Do you use tablets or similar devices for daily operations? Point of Sale?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may stand to benefit from 802.11ax. To learn how 802.11ax can help your business please contact us.


If you've determined that 802.11ax could help your business, you will need to take into account the following as well:


  • Given 802.11ax's high throughput, multigig switches to support connections to the APs will be needed. If you haven't done so with 802.11ac, you will need to with 802.11ax. Otherwise you won't be able to take advantage of the higher speeds 802.11ax has to offer

  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) considerations should be taken into mind as well

  • Increased distribution/aggregation/core layer capacity, as the multigig switches will require 10G or even 40G connections into the layers above it to support the higher volume of traffic coming from the APs

My takeaway? 802.11ax has brought some really good performance and reliability improvements with it. What's more, is that it takes into account the rapidly increasing number of devices, and delivers the capacity needed at the access layer. If you haven't upgraded since 802.11n, you will need to upgrade your access layer switching, and possibly your aggregation/core layers as well depending on projected throughput.


For more information on 802.11ax and to understand how upgrading will impact your business, Ultraviolet Networks can help you. Feel free to contact us at 321.421.0337 or info@ultraviolet.network


Ultraviolet Networks is a technology solutions provider focusing on illuminating the possibilities of how technology can make your business shine.


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