Despite the considerable advertising budget allocated by mobile network operators touting the benefits of 5G—if not virtues, considering their enthusiasm for it borders on a religious experience—practical adoption of 5G requires widespread deployment by these network operators. Wi-Fi 6, in contrast, is already available for deployment in your organization now—and the iPhone 11, Galaxy Note 10, and other smartphones support the new standard.
SEE: Wi-Fi 6: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
In addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands used traditionally in Wi-Fi, support for ISM bands between 1 and 7 GHz were added in Wi-Fi 6. Adding more available spectrum—and pushing away from the already crowded unlicensed bands used by Wi-Fi and everything else—will significantly increase speeds, though a lot of research into more efficiently utilizing this spectrum is realized in the Wi-Fi 6 specification.
What makes Wi-Fi 6 faster and more stable than 802.11ac?
From a specifications standpoint, Wi-Fi 6 can provide speeds up to 30% faster than 802.11ac, with a 75% decrease in latency, as tests at CNET topped out at 1.32 Gbps. Though achieving those speeds between the access point and client devices are possible, attaining those speeds on the Internet (as opposed to just communicating with other devices on your local network) requires a larger pipe. 5Gbps+ connections are largely limited to city centers, with Gigabit internet connectivity only available in select neighborhoods in a few dozen cities in the US.
Wi-Fi 6 enables this speed improvement and connection stability by adding aggressive spectrum management capabilities. Wi-Fi 6 uses 160 MHz channel widths—a technology that was added to 802.11ac Wave 2—with each 20 MHz block further divisible into 256 subchannels (an increase from the 64 granted in 802.11ac), using a process called Multi-User Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (MU-OFDMA). This allows resources to be allocated equitably based on need and load—Internet of Things (IoT) devices, for example, need an always-on connection, but do not need large dedicated segments of a network when at rest.
Compared to 802.11ac, in which Multi-User MIMO was downlink-only, Wi-Fi 6 allows for upload-link MU-MIMO, allowing client devices to communicate with an access point simultaneously. Used in conjunction with MU-OFDMA, this allows Wi-Fi 6 to serve multiple devices more efficiently. The addition of 1024-QAM provides some additional level of data transmission, though the law of diminishing returns applies—the move from 256-QAM to 1024-QAM does not really mean it is four times better, just that more processing overhead can be dedicated to modulation as a result of more efficient chipsets.
Target Wake Time (TWT) in Wi-Fi 6 allows for more flexible negotiation of active network transmission—by increasing the time between wakes to send/receive data, battery life for IoT devices can be increased.
How can I deploy Wi-Fi 6 in my organization?
Fortunately, Wi-Fi 6 is here, right now. Practical availability and selection of 5G smartphones is still limited, as the 5G modems are still relatively early-stage (a polite way to say inefficient) and deployment of 5G mobile networks is limited to select neighborhoods in select cities—as CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt found, if you take a turn down the wrong street, you’ll be back on LTE.
Silicon solutions are already available from Qualcomm—the Snapdragon 855 supports Wi-Fi 6 natively—as well as Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, and Intel. Access points are likewise available from Aruba, Cisco, Juniper (Mist), Huawei, and Extreme Networks, among others.
One pain point to watch for in your deployment involves the capabilities of your existing cabling. If your existing cabling has been in place for the last several generations of Wi-Fi, it may not be up to the task. With speeds exceeding 1 Gbps, multiple GbE cables are needed to max out the potential of Wi-Fi 6, likewise, the increased power requirements needed to deliver those speeds exceed the 30W provided in Power over Ethernet (PoE) standards.
For more, check out “Why WPA3 is necessary to secure Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11ax networks” and “AT&T fastest mobile network in the US, but US only ranks 38th worldwide” on TechRepublic.