Wi-Fi 6 has passed its first major test at networking Internet of Things (IoT) devices in a challenging factory environment.

On Thursday, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) announced the successful completion of phase one trial testing of its Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure and services at the Mettis Aerospace factory in the UK.

Designed to analyze how the latest flavor of mobile Wi-Fi can handle IoT devices in a mixed and crowded environment, the trial was the first of its kind globally and is seen by the WBA as an important part of its Wi-Fi 6 test and development program.

SEE: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax): A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Already available in the latest routers, mobile phones, and other consumer devices, Wi-Fi 6 is the user-friendly name now adopted by the WBA to describe what’s technically known as 802.11ax, the follow-up to 802.11ac (now rechristened Wi-Fi 5).

Beyond offering faster speeds and lower latency than its predecessors, Wi-Fi 6 promises better performance with multiple devices all competing for attention on the same network. That makes it ideal for factory conditions and other settings with IoT devices and other equipment that all need a healthy chunk of bandwidth.

Conducted at the 27-acre Mettis Aerospace facility in the West Midlands between October 2019 and December 2019, the phase one testing was a challenge for Wi-Fi 6, according to the WBA.

The new version of Wi-Fi had to prove that it could provide total connectivity for machines and equipment with centralized monitoring and control systems. The technology was expected to deliver real-time, high-bandwidth networking with very low latency and clear prioritization of data across a large factory floor with a lot of interference, noise, and other impediments.

Also, previous implementation tests with Wi-Fi failed to work in Mettis’ factory environment, the WBA added. Several years ago, Mettis had run tests using Wi-Fi 4, or 802.11n, in another one of its onsite facilities using two access points and laptops. The connectivity worked only intermittently but not enough to provide a reliable Wi-Fi network.

Using smartphones, tablets, laptops, and webcams all outfitted with the Broadcom and Intel Wi-Fi 6 chipset, the tests in phase one covered a variety of tasks, including:

  • 4k streaming from a webcam mounted on machinery within the factory.
  • 4k YouTube streaming from a laptop with the Intel AX200 chip.
  • Uploads of very large video files over Wi-Fi.
  • Roaming, latency, and persistent connectivity during Wi-Fi video calling using smartphones.
  • Augmented reality testing of machinery using devices with a Wi-Fi 6 chipset.

During the testing, the Wi-Fi 6 technology generated speeds of 700 Mbps using 80 MHz channels, while applications such as video calling and video streaming achieved low-latency results below 6ms, the WBA said.

In one specific test of walk-by machine monitoring, a tablet was placed near a piece of machinery and was able to get an instant reading of the real-time pressure and performance of that machine.

“The completion of this initial phase marks a significant milestone for the adoption of Wi-Fi 6,” WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues said in a press release.

“The Mettis facility is an especially challenging environment for wireless communications with furnaces, presses and heat, a lot of moving heavy machinery, and the presence of dust and in-air particulates. Nevertheless, the field tests in this highly charged atmosphere have proven that Wi-Fi 6 technology works well and can play a vital role within the industrial enterprise and IoT ecosystem. If Wi-Fi 6 can deliver highly reliable, high quality and high bandwidth communications in this type of factory environment, then it can deliver it almost anywhere.”

The trial phase was conducted by the WBA in collaboration with member companies Broadcom, Cisco, iBwave, and Intel as well as Concurrent Engineering and Keysight. Set to run for a maximum of two months in 2020, phase two of the trial will focus on further testing of the mixed-reality applications and IoT sensing of key assets.

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