In the last few decades, there has been a humongous growth in the number of Internet users, devices, and connectivity-everywhere. All these factors, coupled with digital transformation across all industries globally & growing consumption of bandwidth-demanding applications, have contributed to the requirement for faster and ubiquitous wireless connectivity. To address these, the Wi-Fi Alliance- the organization responsible for conceptualizing, developing, & certifying Wi-Fi standards- announced the next generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6. This next generation of wireless networks based on 802.11ax is a development over the current fifth generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 802.11ac (standardized in 2014).
It provides a more consistent and reliable network connection with a seamless experience for users, IoT, & voice and video. Wi-Fi 6 can achieve speeds up to 4 times faster than previous Wi-Fi standards, promising better user experience and performance of bandwidth-consuming applications such as voice, video, and collaboration with theoretical maximum transfer speeds up to around 10 Gbps.
Wi-Fi 6 is an industry certification program based on IEEE 802.11ax standard. It enables the next generation Wi-Fi connectivity promising higher capacity, coverage, and performance even in hyper-dense environments. These networks enable lower battery consumption making them perfectly suited for the new-age connected applications, such as smart homes, Internet of Things, and Smart Manufacturing.
Wi-Fi 6 lays down the foundation for a multitude of uses from UHD movies streaming, high-bandwidth & low-latency business applications to seamless connectivity in large & congested hyper-dense environments.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has introduced simplified generational names in the device names & product descriptions. These provide device manufacturers, operators, and end-users with an easy description for both the Wi-Fi technology supported by the device along with the type of connection that it makes with a Wi-Fi network.
As defined by WiFi.org, the goals of generational Wi-Fi are:
Wi-Fi generations are now identified using a numerical sequence matched to PHY advancements in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands.
Wi-Fi 6 promises a variety of improvements and fresh features that drive Wi-Fi devices towards higher operational efficiency. The improvements are made possible by some key enabling technologies that bring enhanced performance even in demanding environments. Let us have a look at them:
According to a report by ABI Research, 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6 chipsets are forecasted to reach more than a billion annual shipments by 2022, only within three years of the first commercial deployments -expected in the last two quarters of 2019. The report also mentions that, “The enormous growth in Wi-Fi-enabled devices, increased per-user traffic demand, greater number of users per Access Point (AP), increased cellular offloading, higher density Wi-Fi deployments, growing use of outdoor Wi-Fi, heterogeneous device and traffic types, and a desire for more power and spectral efficiency are all major driving forces behind the introduction of 802.11ax’s/Wi-Fi 6. Currently, some of the OEMs such as Broadcom, Qualcomm, Marvell, Quantenna, Intel, and Celeno have Wi-Fi 6 pre-standard chipsets.”
As per Reuters, in 2018, the telecommunications regulator FCC voted in favor of opening 1200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed devices in the 6GHz band. The 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 working committee is now looking for ways to incorporate the 6GHz support into 802.11ax. The availability of spectrum would facilitate smoother adoption of 6GHz devices.
Wi-Fi 6 is adaptable and designed for both forward and backward compatibility. Wi-Fi 6 clients would not necessarily require upgrades in the existing legacy infrastructure.
According to WBA Alliance, Wi-Fi 6 supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless devices. Thus, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac devices will be able to co-exist with the new Wi-Fi 6 devices. For backward compatibility, Wi-Fi 6 radios also support OFDM and HR-DSSS.
Wi-Fi 6 brings in significant improvements through key enabling technologies such as MU-MIMO & OFDMA to achieve faster and highly optimized Wi-Fi performance. Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of using Wi-Fi 6 technology:
Public Venues such as Airports, convention centers, Railway & metro stations, etc receive a high footfall every day and thus, the population density at these venues is very high. This requires the BSS at these places to support a high network bandwidth requirement from users.
Wi-Fi 6 technology improves the efficiency of the spectrum, thereby enabling concurrent usage and increased bandwidth requirements. Since the venues may experience a sudden rise in voice traffic (carrier offload) on Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi 6 can handle latency efficiently. Wi-Fi 6 uses OFDMA, MU-MIMO for uplink & downlink which helps support the increasing demand for video content uploads/downloads from users in a hyper-dense environment.
The Wireless Broadband Alliance & Mettis Aerospace announced the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 Industrial Enterprise and IoT trial. The use cases under this alliance include multi-stream live video monitoring, real-time energy monitoring, ultra-reliable low latency communications with sensors on critical systems, and augmented reality.
The capabilities of Wi-Fi 6’s in terms of high capacity support and increased throughput have significant benefits for deployment in Smart Cities. The increased throughput through Wi-Fi 6 is significantly important for enabling wireless backhaul scenarios for the Smart Cities network.
Congestion planning for smart cities network can be simplified through the use of Wi-Fi 6. The benefits of the frequency re-use features in Wi-Fi 6 facilitate spatial efficiency and allow access points to be moved closer. This increases the overall network capacity with a higher density of access points for a given number of users inside a cell.
Wi-Fi 6 commercial deployments are expected to see the light of the day by early 2020. The latest generation of Wi-Fi technology would focus on higher network efficiency, improving user experience in hyper-dense deployments, increased user throughputs & a transformation in enterprise WLAN architecture. It will aid in laying a robust foundation for Industry 4.0 globally. Wi-Fi 6 would be a solution for the ever-increasing demand for faster data rates over wireless networks.
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