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What is all the 802.11ax Hype About?

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Over the past two decades, we have witnessed massive advancements in Wi-Fi technology. The six different wireless standards have brought ever faster speeds and greater functionality. From 802.11 delivering 2Mbps connectivity to 802.11ac delivering up to 3.47Gbps, the industry has come a long way. With wireless standards being updated frequently, it’s important to understand what each new standard has to offer and how it can help your business.

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What is 802.11ax?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is developing the new Wi-Fi standard 802.11ax. Their goal is to increase the efficiency of wireless communications. The standards body is expected to ratify towards the end of 2019. This new standard will deliver higher network throughput and allow more devices to connect. Building off the current 802.11ac standard, changes continue to advance Wi-Fi’s ability to help meet mobile requirements as part of their digital transformation. With the explosion of mobile devices, moving to the cloud and adopting IoT, the need for fast and reliable connectivity is greater than ever.

How does 802.11ax differ from 802.11ac?

The new standard will build off current standards, supporting increased numbers of Wi-Fi networks, greater throughput and coverage, and more clients supported per access point. While there are more than 50 features in the 802.11ax standard, not all will be rolled out.

The 802.11ac standard was a significant step up in individual device performance from the previous 802.11n standards—up to 8X faster. While 802.11ax provides improvements in individual device connectivity speeds, it focuses more so on overall network throughput and optimization.

802.11ax provides operational enhancements in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands Wi-Fi uses, whereas the previous 802.11ac standard only enhanced the 5GHz band. The 5GHz band provides significant benefits in data speeds and overall capacity with the majority of Wi-Fi devices using 5GHz today. However, there are many devices supporting only 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, for example, many Internet of Things (IoT) devices. While enterprises continue to focus most of their Wi-Fi usage on 5GHz, improvements in 2.4GHz operation with 802.11ax are welcome.

The biggest actual change is the ability to use sub-channel communications. With previous Wi-Fi standards, clients connected to a radio waited their turn to transmit and receive data due to inefficiency in sharing one channel no matter the size of data packets. 802.11ax introduces Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) which divides channels into sub-channels. This provides the ability for smaller data transfers using only the bandwidth necessary and freeing up bandwidth for others.

What can 802.11ax do for your business?

While 802.11ax offers many new benefits, current Wi-Fi standards still meet the majority of today’s business requirements today. As macro trends of mobile, cloud and big data continue evolving and impacting how we do business, benefits delivered will become increasingly relevant.

A critical component of 802.11ax adoption is client device support for the standard. Expect to see client devices with 802.11ax support becoming available in 2019. It is a relevant discussion to discuss how the technology will benefit you in the future. This 11ax standard is aimed at wireless LAN efficiency, delivering higher overall network throughput and support for high-density wireless. With IoT impacting numbers of mobile devices deployed, 802.11ax will provide benefits when these devices start to support the standard. The million dollar question of when to migrate is to be evaluated in the context of each business. Where are you in your Wi-Fi refresh cycle (typically every 4-5 years) and your plan to migrate infrastructure to 802.11ax?

What are Riverbed’s plans for 802.11ax?

Riverbed Xirrus is developing standard compliant solutions to extend our portfolio of Wi-Fi products. While some vendor 802.11ax products are getting early exposure in the market today, technology is still relatively new in the level of maturity in its pre-standard state. As seen with previous standards, it can take a generation or two of Wi-Fi chipsets before complete functionality and stability are achieved. Riverbed is committed to producing robust, standards-compliant solutions that will meet the requirements of the market.

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