What Comes Next in Wi-Fi

Alexandra Gates, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Wi-Fi firm Aerohive, talks to Comms Business Magazine about the new 802.11ax standard and why she believes that increasing speed is not enough.

As we look ahead to 2019, we’re seeing the evolution of Wi-Fi and security standards, driven by the ever-increasing need for improved data transmission speeds and changing device usage – especially in professional environments. Not only has device use skyrocketed but their use patterns are changing, and trends such as BYOD and IoT adoption are exponentially increasing.

High bandwidth demand is becoming the norm. In 2019, we expect to see a great increase in unit shipments of 802.11ax (aka WiFi-6), bringing with it several key advantages which address the evolving world of networking.

In the past, our access to the internet in the workplace was fairly structured. IT had to support one type of device, mostly computers, which ran on a limited number of operating systems. These devices connected to the internet via ethernet and ran a relatively small number of applications.

More recently, IoT has started to become a factor in corporate networks. Examples including ‘smart’, connected devices like thermostats, lighting controls and door locks present new challenges to network administrators, because of their sheer numbers and because they can be hard to identify and even harder to secure.

With this in mind, Wi-Fi networks need to be able to handle greater demand and complexity than ever before. That’s a real challenge!

That is why we expect to see a rapid rise in unit shipments of 802.11ax in 2019. This new standard has several advantages over previous Wi-Fi technologies.

For the past 21 years, Wi-Fi has been focused on successively higher peak theoretical speeds. 802.11n brought us speeds of up to 450 Mbps on paper whilst 802.11ac brought us into the hypothetical realm of gigabit Wi-Fi. 802.11ax is changing the conversation to focus more on efficiency and ‘high efficiency wireless’.


A key component of 802.11ax’s importance is capacity management. With orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), 802.11ax is able to drive greater efficiency of access. The main benefit of OFDMA is that it allows an access point (AP) to allocate the whole channel to a single user at a time or it may partition a channel to serve multiple users simultaneously. It is capable of doing this by assigning subsets of subcarriers, called Resource Units (RUs) to the individual clients, meaning that multiple users with varying bandwidth needs can be served simultaneously. This will result in huge improvements in efficiency in any relatively high-density area.

To use an analogy, if you look at today’s Wi-Fi as a delivery van delivering one package on every trip, in comparison, OFDMA divides up the spectrum and allocates it to multiple different users if necessary. This is akin to a delivery truck carrying packages from different senders on a single trip – which is clearly far more efficient.

Target Wake Time

Another key feature of 802.11ax is Target Wake Time (TWT) – a power saving mechanism that allows devices to negotiate when and how often they will wake up to send or receive data. This includes resource scheduling features and scheduled sleep and wake times, which is borrowed from 802.11ah Wi-Fi. TWT increases device sleep time and, in turn, reduces energy consumption and substantially improves battery life. This is great news for all of us looking for ways to remedy poor battery life in our devices, and should encourage mobile device manufacturers to utilise 802.11ax chipsets in their new products. Because of this, it seems plausible that 802.11ax devices will appear at a much more rapid pace in the market than any previous wireless standards.

These are the key features of 802.11ax, but there are other benefits too, such as improved throughput and coverage and support for the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

With the proliferation of devices, it is clear that Wi-Fi speed is not enough anymore. Wi-Fi standards need to be able to manage multiple clients in the most efficient way possible to ensure that speed is provided consistently, rather than in peaks and troughs. That is the future we are heading towards with 802.11ax.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine