Originally appearing in iotforall.com, January 22, 2021
With current network policies already struggling to keep up with connectivity demands, the world needs a new WiFi standard.
IEEE 802.11ax, or WiFi 6, is the new specification standard post IEEE 802.11ac (or WiFi 5), promising better connectivity, higher speeds, and increased support for several high-bandwidth devices. The IEEE 802.11ax standard was first proposed in 2013 by the IEEE High-Efficiency WLAN Study Group. Their goal was to improve spectrum efficiency in places with multiple competing routers like apartments and malls. They eventually reached a breakthrough in 2018, and it was certified by the WiFi Alliance in late 2019.
WiFi 6 routers operate between 2.4 and 5.9 GHz. It also assures better router protection through WPA3 WiFi security. For larger networks, this means better encryption and more thorough security support.
The WiFi Alliance has outlined a couple of key features that are responsible for WiFi 6’s increased connectivity. Including:
Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) and multi-user multiple inputs, multiple outputs (MU-MIMO), separate each spectrum per frequency and support multiple devices simultaneously. This means that more devices can connect without affecting their connection quality.
The 160 MHz channel utilization capability is responsible for increasing the overall bandwidth available. Plus, the transmit beamforming used to signal transmission improves WiFi 6’s range by sending the signals to clients directly, rather than over a broad spectrum. With WiFi 6, you won’t have to worry about stealing bandwidth from other devices, allowing you to run high-data applications like 4K videos and 3D games without worrying about everyone else’s network speed. The impact of the shared medium is mitigated up to a point but not
WiFi 6 is capable of speeds up to 9.6 Gbps. That’s a big leap from WiFi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. Modern modems and routers make full use of PCBs with complicated transmission lines and terminations to aid in transferring data, much in the same way cables deliver the power needed to operate our lights and appliances. Then again, WiFi 6 routers have the added perk of being 5G enabled, which results in even higher throughput and lower latency across big spaces.
But innovation doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers are now developing WiFi 6E routers, which are essentially WiFi 6 but are equipped with the chips to operate at 6 GHz. Channels on the 6GHz band are expected to be 160 MHz each in size. That’s enough to transfer virtual reality, augmented reality data, and robotic signals from the comfort of one’s home.
Of course, not all devices are equipped to tap into such high frequencies. Consumer technology like smartphones and IoT first have to be WiFi-6 enabled. Many smartphones from 2019 and beyond, like the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20, for example, are all WiFi 6 enabled. Newer laptop models like the Dell XPS (2020) and Lenovo Yoga c940 can also tap into WiFi 6 frequencies.
To make the most out of your WiFi 6 connection, choose a plan that’s more tailored to your location. For example, a 2.4 GHz band can cover big spaces and transmit data at a slower rate. The opposite is true for those operating at 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz. They can only cover small locations but transmit data at faster speeds. Theoretically, however, the consistent speed of WiFi 6 ensures that even a 2.4 GHz band can provide exemplary network connectivity.
The short answer is no. It may operate at higher speeds and have some other bells and whistles, but devices will still have a shared medium. And once the data usage goes over the band’s capacity, even WiFi 6’s OFDMA and MU-MIMO won’t be enough to secure stable connections preferred applications all day. This would be a problem in a dense urban environment like apartments, large homes, offices, stadiums, and other establishments that allow multiple devices to connect on a shared medium (i.e., air) will feel the strain. This will also not mitigate the problem in the rural environment due to larger distances and weaker signals. To this end, it still helps to have programs that can prevent network congestion with application awareness.
The lack of application awareness has been one of the main problems that WiFi Forum has been unable to address. It came up with the WMM for bandwidth fairness, but that has so many issues.
WiFi 6 has many perks, but it’s best to wait until more devices that can support it are released — hopefully by the end of 2020. If you’re eyeing the WiFi 6E routers, know that it’s still in its early adoption, so it also might be best to wait it out until other consumers have reviewed it.
“Wi-Fi is the Internet. The Internet is Wi-Fi.” So said one of the cable executives we recently interviewed. This sentiment captures how consumers view their in-home experience. It’s this perception that shapes the consumer-operator relationship: inbound call frequency, customer satisfaction levels, churn rates, etc. Given this reality, operators must strive to deliver the best possible Wi-Fi experience for their customers.
To gain a deeper understanding of the managed Wi-Fi actions and attitudes of Tier 2-3 MSOs, we interviewed 11 cable executives during Q4 2020. This research captured diverse perspectives both in terms of operator size and footprint. Those with population coverage of 1 million+, classified as “large mid-sized operators,” accounted for 27% of the executives we interviewed. “Small mid-sized operators,” each covering populations of 200,000 to 999,999, represented 37% of those interviewed. The remaining 36% were classified as “small operators.” These MSOs provide service in the Midwest (40%), Southeast (27%), Northeast (13%), South (13%) and Northwest (7%).
Ten of the 11 service providers have already launched residential managed Wi-Fi and the eleventh will do so by year-end. Two operators introduced their solution five years ago while five operators did so last year or this year. Dissatisfied with their initial vendor partner, three operators replaced their original solution or will do shortly. Two of these three operators are amongst the smallest we interviewed.
Service provider benefits
When asked about the benefits they’ve realized by offering a residential managed Wi-Fi solution, the executives cited increased revenue, improved customer experience and reduced churn as the three most important. Small mid-sized operators particularly valued reduced churn, with 75% of that group choosing it.
Service provider challenges
As you can see here, a variety of challenges have stood in the way of most of the operators fully realizing these benefits, although two indicated that they haven’t experienced any challenges.
The monitoring challenge was described in several ways. For example, the Wi-Fi vendor with its own systems is not integrated with the operator’s HSD monitoring system. One executive from a small mid-sized operator said he would like to receive a quality-of-service score to proactively help customers. This would be helpful in situations where the quality of a customer’s service degrades due to a neighbor getting service, for example.
Installation issues differ depending upon the use of a self-install or technician-enabled approach. For the former, there are coverage risks if the customers places pods incorrectly. One executive views self-install as a “big waste of resources.” That same executive now takes a “concierge approach” by having technicians fully walk each home to place pods properly and explain the portal. But reliance on technicians isn’t without installation challenges – particularly during a pandemic.
Next we asked “Which of these features are most important to your customers?” Not surprisingly, every executive said “Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house” is important. Almost half noted that their customers value having the “ability to prioritize and control access for specific applications, devices and users.” One small operator who serves the Bible Belt noted that their customers especially value having parental controls.
Customer satisfaction levels
Over 80% of those interviewed view their customers’ satisfaction with their solution as either high (55%) or very high (27%). The two executives who gave it a moderate grade say they will be re-launching their solution with another vendor soon.
The reasons given for very high/high ratings are:
Even though customers are generally very satisfied, there’s still room for improvement. Here are the steps cited by some of the executives we interviewed:
One-box vs. two-box
Several executives opined about a one-box versus a two-box solution. According to an executive at a small mid-sized operator, his experience with one vendor “revealed the flaw of a single-box solution. Wi-Fi specs change rapidly while those for a basic modem do not.” The preference for a two-box solution, particularly in the PON world, was voiced by others. For example, another executive did not like embedded Wi-Fi on PON tech -– requiring reliance on an element managing system. “There’s a risk of the modem getting hot and interfering with the Wi-Fi chip set,” the exec said.
Looking ahead to Wi-Fi 6
Another vendor-related issue which surfaced is the view that several suppliers offer excellent hardware while others have the best software. As such, some service providers have lobbied for vendor partnerships to deliver optimized solutions. This trend is expected to evolve further with Wi-Fi 6.
As one executive at a large mid-sized operator stated, “the hardware purchased and used could be independent of the software. By decoupling, you can put better software in boxes and not rely on the less desirable all-in-one offerings.” Another executive also touted the expected advantages: “With Wi-Fi 6 next year, we can improve the customer experience even more.”
David Strauss, Principal, Broadband Success Partners
A July 2020 study from Statistica reports that 58% of Americans are working from home at least one day a week, with 44% working from home every day. Before the pandemic, only 17% were working from home five days a week.
Apart from the normal challenges and distractions associated with working from home – finding a quiet location, juggling schedules and avoiding binge-watching – one in seven Americans (15%) are also dealing with daily Internet connectivity issues and more than a half (53%) are experiencing issues at least once a month, according to anApril 2020 report from Waveform.
For some people, one possible solution is to buy more (or better) technology. After heading to their local electronics store or visiting their favorite online retailer, these consumers are greeted by a wide array of Wi-Fi routers, extenders, boosters, repeaters and mesh systems – all promising to deliver better coverage and throughput. But do these products always deliver on that guarantee? Not necessarily.
In reality, adding more technology makes things more complicated, not better. Then, when the Internet service provider (ISP) is called for help, customers find there’s none available because their newly purchased technology often lacks the necessary remote troubleshooting capabilities.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
At the end of the day, consumers want two things when they are working from home: a stable connection and adequate coverage for every connected device in their home. Truth be told, most people would prefer to get both things from a single company.
A good managed Wi-Fi solution, available from an ISP, offers four things to consumers:
The Wi-Fi 6 standard (aka 802.11ax) includes more than 50 new enhancements, most of them designed to improve data rates, capacity, coverage and power efficiency.
Consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers and gateways, some costing hundreds of dollars, are available to support the growing number of compatible consumer devices (e.g., Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone 11/12, iPad pro and most new laptops). Offering a Wi-Fi 6-powered system can be a huge differentiator for ISPs, especially if it is part of a managed Wi-Fi offer that provides consumers with an alternative that is more affordable – and comes with premium technical support and a comprehensive warranty.
Greg Owens, Product Marketing Director, Calix
A major U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruling in April unleashed 6 GHz for unlicensed use — a huge boost for expanding Wi-Fi’s potential. The floodgates for products and solutions that will use next-generation Wi-Fi capabilities are only now starting to open. Consumers and businesses alike should be ready. Globally, 59% of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. So whether your interest is personal entertainment or corporate productivity, understanding recent and coming changes to Wi-Fi is key for smarter planning and choices in everything from AR/VR headsets to enabling remote workers and complex IoT.
To understand Wi-Fi in general and how newest generations improve on their predecessors, let’s examine a few key specifications.
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), launched in 2007, shows its age but remains serviceable for less demanding environments. A quick refresher on its vital stats provides a useful baseline for appreciating Wi-Fi’s evolutionary advances.
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) arrived in 2013. It dispensed with the 2.4 GHz band and only used 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 4 used a single-user (SU) MIMO scheme. That means a device could only transmit to one receiving device at a time. Wi-Fi 5 hopped to multi-user (MU-MIMO), opening the door to much more efficient handling of multiple clients from one router or access point. Maximum channel width increased to 160 MHz and modulation to 256-QAM. The number of spatial streams doubled from four to eight (although few if any access points ever implemented more than four). The PHY rate (the bandwidth of the network adapter interface) took a massive 11x leap to 6.9 Gbps, yielding a practical MAC throughput of 4.49 Gbps, compared to 390 Mbps for Wi-Fi 4. Again, these are theoretical rates, not what users saw in real life.
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in August 2019. Based just on top-line specs, the improvements over Wi-Fi 5 seem modest. For a single user, Wi-Fi 6 is only 37% faster — and that’s with adding back 2.4 GHz spectrum alongside 5 GHz support. Channel bandwidth tops out at 40 MHz under 2.4 GHz, but reaches a full 160 MHz in 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 6 steps into 1024-QAM, preserves support for eight spatial streams (8×8), and also does MU-MIMO. When maxed out, Wi-Fi 6 yields a maximum data rate of 9.6 Gbps.
If that doesn’t sound worth an upgrade, hold on. Think about how few Wi-Fi devices were on your home network a decade ago. Most of us could count them on one hand. Today, the number has probably doubled and will likely multiply in the coming years. Imagine trying to carry on conversations with multiple people in a crowded room simultaneously. With Wi-Fi 6, you not only can (magically) talk to multiple people at the same time, you can speak and listen more efficiently, so conversations move faster.
Wi-Fi 6 introduces orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), a cumbersome mouthful that allows routers to subdivide channels into smaller radio bands called resource units (RUs). Different RUs can service different client devices for better support of crowded device environments and/or support different data streams to the same device, which can help lower latency. Wi-Fi 6’s combination of OFDMA and MU-MIMO, which now supports multi-device communication in both directions, is particularly powerful.
Wi-Fi 6 further optimizes for crowded environments with a feature called Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS). With previous Wi-Fi generations, client devices would test if traffic was using a given radio channel before transmitting. If so, they would wait until the channel was clear, whether that traffic came from the user’s network or another competing/overlapping network in the same space. That’s good for easing congestion, bad for latency rates. Rather than waiting until all traffic is gone from a channel before proceeding, OBSS allows the router/access point to “color” traffic by network. The user’s network might be blue and a competing network red. (These are visual metaphors, not literal coloring of IP packets.) If red traffic appears, the router can go ahead and still allow blue traffic, thus increasing reliability and lowering latency.
OBSS will prove critical across a range of applications. One is the growing field of remote surgery, where video must be at the highest possible resolution and with the lowest possible lag. A 2014 study found that “latencies ≤200 ms are ideal for telesurgery; 300 ms is also suitable.” Wi-Fi 6 testing often finds latency rates below 40 ms.
Similarly, VR applications have long struggled against virtual reality sickness, in which frame rates, resolution, and latency can be important contributing factors. The higher bandwidth and lower latency of Wi-Fi 6 can mitigate these issues. Gaming will also benefit from Wi-Fi 6, especially in genres like first-person shooters and rhythm games, where split-second accuracy is critical.
Wi-Fi 6 gets smarter about reducing wireless congestion. Every client device sends out a periodic ping to the router, giving its identification and status. Imagine a teacher trying to take roll, saying, “Who’s here?” If 20 kids answer simultaneously, it’s chaos. Wi-Fi 6 implements Target Wake Time, allowing routers to schedule when devices can ping their data. Also, fewer device wake-ups can translate to longer device battery lives.
Device density improves, too. Consider IoT environments packed with smart devices, such as manufacturing floors or military theaters filled with troops and ordnance. Hundreds of devices may operate within a few square meters (including battery-powered devices, which will benefit from lower power consumption) all trying to connect at full speed with a single access point. Wi-Fi 6 makes this possible at sustained, previously impossible performance levels.
For security, Wi-Fi 6 relies on WPA3, which remedies some of WPA2’s susceptibilities to brute force attacks on pass-phrases and the ability for malicious users to perform packet capture in public hotspots. WPA3 enables Wi-Fi Enhanced Open, which preserves encryption on an otherwise open network, alleviating some need for security through VPNs. This will make public wireless computing, as well as high-traffic work environments (think office hoteling and headquarters meeting rooms) much safer and more convenient.
In the year since launch of the spec, we now have a fair number of high-end (and backward-compatible) routers that support the spec. However, in January 2021, expect Wi-Fi 6E’s arrival. Wi-Fi 6E takes advantage of the April 2020 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to open 1200 MHz of radio spectrum around 6 GHz for unlicensed use. This will enable another seven 160 MHz channels.
Wi-Fi 6E preserves all Wi-Fi 6 features and adds a third radio band at 6 GHz. This extra bandwidth will be increasingly valuable to high-data rate applications, particularly those with high-def video components. We mentioned virtual reality, but augmented reality will also benefit. So, too, will service providers offering things such as in-vehicle entertainment and high-speed device tethering. Wi-Fi 6 enables 4K and higher video feeds, with more cameras connecting into fewer access points, thus saving on infrastructure costs.
It may take longer for 6E to become mainstream, as conventional applications and environments may not need the extra traffic legroom.
Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) is expected to arrive in 2024. This latest evolution could be the Gigabit Ethernet-killer you’ve been waiting for.
Part of this will stem from adoption of 4096-QAM and part from an ability to work across 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz simultaneously, rather than hopping singly to the best-possible option. Wi-Fi 7 will embrace up to 320 MHz channel bandwidths and 16 spatial streams. Interestingly, as the IEEE’s candidate features document discusses, wider channels are not always better. But the issues with very wide channels can be mitigated with simultaneous multi-band operation. All this will more than quadruple Wi-Fi 7’s maximum theoretical data rate to over 46 Gbps, with expected real-world bandwidth up to 30 Gbps shared across many devices.
Video will be a huge beneficiary. 8K video uses four times as many pixels as 4K, and many people likely will need multiple streams delivered. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to triple Wi-Fi 6’s speeds across twice the number of frequencies, in part due to the ability to transmit and receive simultaneously across the same frequency as well as across multiple bands. Again: faster speeds, more devices, and lower latency. Everything that benefited under Wi-Fi 6 and 6E gets better in this next release.
First-gen Wi-Fi 7 chipsets are expected in late 2023, but there’s a long road for Wi-Fi 6/6E iterations to play out before production-ready Wi-Fi 7. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about. If industry leaders like Deloitte, Cisco, Intel and others are correct, Wi-Fi and 5G will co-exist and play a critical role in providing uninterrupted, dramatically better performance for AI, edge, and cloud applications benefitting consumers, mobile workers, and organizations alike.
"When we say that 6 GHz Wi-Fi constitutes a ‘paradigm shift’ in connectivity – what exactly does that mean? Here’s the bottom line: Wi-Fi 6E (we like to call it 6E for short) will drive an irreversible change in how the world of connectivity works. It means the way we’ve been used to doing things will fundamentally change. Here are six areas that will be revolutionised by Wi-Fi 6E in short order. If you’re not already we recommend that you get involved in Wi-Fi 6E now."
Gigabits to the phone: 6E will make 5G look slow!
According to Broadcom Wi-Fi 6E will deliver 2.4 Gbps to your phone (160 MHz channel) which is at least five times more than what you have today. This kind of speed is unheard of today and is probably overkill right now but it will no doubt open up for new types of applications. It will also in most cases make 5G look slow (except perhaps for the not very practical mmWave kind of 5G) rendering 5G unnecessary indoors. Fortunately, we believe that 5G mobile carriers – where possible – will begin to embrace mobile offload to Wi-Fi 6E, so that 6E will become the de-facto indoor mobile solution.
The 6E-powered home will be something hard to imagine
What will the 6E-powered home look like? Well – we can certainly come up with some speeds and feeds for it. That’s the easy part. But living in the 6E-powered home is arguably hard to imagine at this point because the step up in connectivity is so vast that surely the entire home connectivity category will no doubt be reimagined and reinvented. Each room will likely be served by its own 160 MHz channel delivering clean, unobstructed gigabits of connectivity, and we’ll probably have (perhaps a Wi-Fi 7?) backbone covering the house or apartment.
Industrial connectivity reinvented
Here are three facts that will make 6E irresistible for industrial applications: The band is pristine, legacy Wi-Fi devices are (in principle) not allowed in 6 GHz, and the latency is as low as 2 milliseconds. This means 6E will experience very little interference, deliver all the performance industrial applications need – at a cost of a fraction of anything adopted from cellular. Remember also the extreme flexibility of Wi-Fi tech and its ability to present a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of adaptable tools to anyone developing industrial connectivity solutions.
“Eighty is the new twenty” for the enterprise
The indoor carpeted enterprise will see an enormous boost in capacity and speed. As a starting point, 80 MHz channels in the 6 GHz band will be the 6 GHz equivalent of the common 20 MHz channels we know today, and one such channel will more than quadruple average Wi-Fi speed. There are fourteen 80 MHz channels in 6 GHz, which will allow frequency reuse patterns that are so wide that co-channel interference will be a thing of the past. We can probably barely imagine how the fan experience at public-facing venues such as stadiums, arenas, and perhaps conference venues will be transformed by 6E.
A resurgence in Fixed Wireless Access
FWA is already doing very well in 5 GHz and even the 60 GHz unlicensed bands – but now the available band for outdoor FWA will be more than doubled: 850 MHz of new spectrum will be made available. This means that the business case for delivering very high-speed, low-cost wireless broadband to a home (or business) for example in rural or suburban USA just got better by several multiples. FWA offerings from WISPs will get more competitive as speeds go up and costs come down. We haven’t done the math but it’s a fair guess the economic value delivered by WISPs could at least double or triple over the next 2-3 years.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SMART BUILDING TECHNOLOGY
Enter your name and email address below
Your Privacy is protected.