Why the new Wi-Fi standard will change the connected experience.
For many people it’s all about speed! We are frequently told that the purpose of new infrastructure is to increase “speed”. Faster broadband, new roads, new rail links and more runways all designed to speed up our lives. However, the biggest problem infrastructure planner’s face in a densely populated country like the UK is capacity! Contrary to popular opinion, Crossrail isn’t going to cut London journey times on most routes, but it will increase capacity, carrying more passengers in greater comfort and improve their experience. Similarly, Wi- Fi users often blame poor performance on low network speeds when what they really need is more network capacity.
That’s why when you plan a Wi-Fi network you need to survey for capacity, not just coverage and network speed. In most enterprise environments capacity, not speed, is the key constraint on a Wi-Fi network. The previous generation of 802.11ac wave 2 Access Points improved Wi- Fi speeds to over a Gigabit, enough for most applications, but they didn’t really address the capacity issue. While expert planning and configuration of the Wi-Fi network can ease a capacity constraint, it can’t eliminate it in high density environments like classrooms, halls of residence, meeting rooms, conferences, airports, railway stations, stadiums and other public spaces. We have all been there – desperately trying to access a train timetable at the same time as a hundred other delayed commuters or uploading a ‘selfie’ at a One Direction concert (or maybe not!) – unable to upload or download despite having a solid 5 bar connection.
The good news is that there is a new Wi-Fi standard 802.11ax that will really help reduce capacity constraints. 802.11ax is so new that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer’s (IEEE’s) isn’t due to publish the standard until 2019 but innovative manufacturers like Aerohive Networks are already releasing products that support the future standard.
So how does it improve things? Any ‘geeks’ still reading this will already know, but for the rest of us who like a bit of technical information, the technical advances in 802.11ax include; a multiplexing technology called orthogonal frequency division multiple access (ODMFA), borrowed from 4G, to squeeze more channels into each signal, 8 antennas (double the number used in 802.11ac) to facilitate 8 x 8 MU-MIMO (multi-user, multi-input, multi-output), a feature to allow combining of the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies to increase throughput and QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) encoding, which allows for more data to be transmitted per packet. The effect of all this technical wizardry is that Wi-Fi capacity is increased, users have a much improved experience even in dense environments and we can all post more selfies on social media!
So why haven’t more manufacturers brought out 802.11ax compliant products? The simple answer is that Cisco, HP – Aruba and others have been slow out of the blocks. Expect a lot of noise from their marketing and sales teams denigrating 802.11ax, they did the same with dual 5 GHz APs until they released their own products and immediately changed tack. Like the pigs in Animal Farm it will be a case of “ac good, ax bad” until they release their own ax APs in 2019 when it will “ac good, ax better”. Of course there will also be hype in support of 802.11ax, it won’t solve all capacity problems and it doesn’t negate the importance of accurate capacity planning and expert design, but it is a significant technical advance that will eventually improve Wi-Fi performance for everyone.
This blog post has been written by Steve Bailey, MD, AIT Partnership
If you work in Higher Education and you are going to the Jisc sponsored Networkshop in Liverpool on the 27th and 28th March you can find out more by visiting our stand, number 41, or joining our conference discussion on 802.11ax.