Wi-Fi has another trick up its sleeve – why CTOs should care about 802.11ax

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Like the businesses it supports, the wireless market is seeing a huge amount of transformation. With each generation, Wi-Fi keeps getting faster. Many factors, and increasing demand, are shaping the market, as new generations and modern technologies enter our workplaces, retail spaces and education systems. 

At the centre of this is our demand for constant connectivity wherever we are, and it is not just people. The need for machines to be connected to each other is becoming pervasive in our homes, our places of work and on our streets. We’re seeing countless innovations in areas like the Internet of Things, Smart Cities, data consumption, and an increasing demand for constantly available connectivity. Wi-Fi is the gateway to unlocking this next wave of technology.

Worldwide data and video traffic is growing at double-digit rates, driven by an increase in connected devices. ABI Research predicts that Wi-Fi device shipments will grow to nearly 35 billion by 2022. Data and video traffic also will surge due to increasing per-device data consumption driven by applications like 4K video streaming, virtual and augmented reality and live-stream gaming.

Thankfully, the industry is starting to solve some of the key problems of the connectivity crunch, a and a crucial part of this is something called 802.11ax. This standard helps to mitigate a number of challenges that have affected the Wi-Fi user experience in the past.

Connectivity challenges

The congestion of people, devices and bandwidth-hungry apps makes for challenges that current wireless tech cannot handle. Adding to the complexity of this environment are diversifying device categories and apps, such as instant messaging, IoT control messages and voice-over-Wi-Fi.

CTOs need wireless solutions which can overcome these challenges, whether they’re managing wireless deployments in train stations, or building the next generation of smart city.

Real-world use cases are bumping up against the limits of existing Wi-Fi standards, and the need for 802.11ax to address a wide variety of heterogeneous, high-density scenarios is clear. Companies which can embrace this technology are setting the stage for converged Wi-Fi, IoT and LTE deployments.

More connections more bandwidth, higher quality

But why should anyone care about 802.11ax? What even is it?

Differently from other standards in the past, the new 802.11ax has been conceived not to simply increase the throughput of a single connection, but with the ultimate objective to support high-density connectivity, with the ability to support up to a four-fold capacity increase over its 802.11ac Wave 2 predecessor. With 802.11ax, multiple APs used in dense device environments are collectively able to deliver required quality-of-service (QoS) to more clients with more diverse usage profiles due to the use of orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) and multi-user multiple-in multiple-out (MU-MIMO) technologies.

Increased end-user expectations and application quality of service requirements pose unique difficulties to network designers. Locations such as stadiums, public venues, train stations, and schools in which video content and applications are central to the curriculum, are examples. Train stations are especially challenging Wi-Fi environments due to spikes in unassociated device count each time passengers exit a train which degrades the performance for connecting users. 

CTOs need Wi-Fi solutions which help improve the in-station experience for subscribers with devices that were already on the network that minimizes the impact of these transient client events.

September 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of IEEE 802.11, what we know as Wi-Fi. Over the years, Wi-Fi has ascended from a technology that enabled computers to wirelessly transfer data at 2 Mbps to winning a spot in Maslow’s pyramid as the most basic human need. The standard has continuously advanced itself by introducing amendments, such as 802.11n, 802.11ac and now 802.11ax.

Real world use cases

Although it is far too early to know what teams will be facing off against each other in the 2022 World Cup, it is almost certain that fans attending the World Cup games will be relying on exceptionally high-quality Wi-Fi to support a wide range of devices, applications and experiences.

Stadiums and arenas are increasingly becoming tech-savvy with mobile games, apps, social interaction, AR experiences and contactless payment solutions. They need Wi-Fi to underpin this.

It is important to note that stadiums and arenas are among the most challenging locations for wireless technologies, for WiFi and even worse for cellular solutions, due to extreme high-performance requirements in an ultra-high-density environment. Put simply, basic Wi-Fi struggles when supporting 70K+ fans simultaneously attempting to stream 4K video replays of a winning goal or a missed penalty kick. Fortunately, new Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ax will help stadiums overcome this by significantly enhancing the fan experience.

Future-proofed networks

CTOs need to ensure they are correctly investing in future-proofed networks. This includes ensuring that their networks are ready for IoT devices, no matter what platform or language the devices use, whether its Bluetooth or Zigbee. 

With over 35 billion connected “things” expected by 2022, ensuring quality of service in ultra-high-density deployment scenarios with older IEEE 802.11ac APs will become increasingly difficult as content like streaming UHD/4K video becomes common.

Customers and partners demand more when it comes to their networks. It’s time for CTOs to look for technology that goes beyond the current state-of-the-art to meet the world’s most demanding network requirements while driving down the cost-per-connection.

Whether you’re in hospitality, education, retail or beyond, Wi-Fi opens doors for you to offer a range of exciting new services and support internal operations. This next generation of Wi-Fi will spur this on. 802.11x brings with it improved high density support, enhanced security, multi-gigabit access speed, and much more than basic Wi-Fi. 

For true visionaries in the C-Suite, there is scope to go beyond what .11ax offers and tackle the big factors which impact Wi-Fi experience. Using technology, we can solve the issues that .11ax isn’t designed to address, combined with the factors that it aids in helping to solve or mitigate, we are well on the way to making a great connectivity experience. For example, ultra-High-Density Technology goes well beyond the 802.11ax standard, making it perfect for the tough environments of the future and easy to deliver reliable, secure, high-performance connectivity in large enterprises, small & medium businesses, public venues, convention centres, and practically any other indoor space.

802.11ax isn’t just a technical standard, it will be an enabler of the smart city, hotel, school and retail environment of the future, the office network of the future and the network of the future. 

Massimo Mazzeo-Ocello, Director of Systems Engineering, EMEA at Ruckus Wireless 

Image Credit: Chris Oakley / Flickr