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What is 802.11ax Wi-Fi and is it Worth the Hype?

by Jason Blalock on April 26, 2018

802.11ax Wi-Fi

There is always something new just around the proverbial corner. The same applies to the current standard for wireless LANs, 802.11ac. It’s no secret that in high-density situations, networks get congested and become inoperable. This issue arises from how Wi-Fi connects to devices, among other things.  

The next technology advancement on the horizon, 802.11ax Wi-Fi, will reportedly fix that. Of course, it’s another leap forward in Wi-Fi connectivity that will, once released, antiquate 802.11ac as quickly as 802.11ac displaced 802.11n. It’s tempting to sound the alarms and begin warning people to start considering the future of their Wi-Fi deployments, but we first must answer the question, "what is 802.11ax?"    

Short on time? Learn how to improve your company's Wi-Fi coverage with a   Wireless Network Assessment. 

What You Need to Know About 802.11ax

First, we are at least a year away from 802.11ax access points being available on the market. Second, Wi-Fi is a two-way street. 802.11ax won't bring any benefits until user devices also include 802.11ax radios. Realistically, we're looking at wide-spread deployment around 2020.

That said, 802.11ax does offer some impressive improvements over 802.11ac:

  • Much faster speeds  

As a baseline, 802.11ax is expected to be able to push more than 3.5Gbps per stream - roughly four times what 802.11ac can handle. And, of course, that number is going to go up as the technology matures. 10Gbps Wi-Fi is no longer unimaginable. It may even be surpassed.

  • More tolerance for high-density environments  

802.11ax is designed with the knowledge that the Internet of Things is growing, and there will always be a lot of radio devices in use. It should be able to manage hundreds of users with minimal congestion.

  • Better power-saving 

802.11ax has much smarter and more efficient "sleep" policies, allowing handheld devices to remain connected while minimizing power drain.

  • Cellular data offloading

This is one of the more interesting features. In cases where the cell network is being strained or reception is weak, it will “offload” traffic to a complementary network.

In short, 802.11ax is going to be very good at two things:  Pumping out a lot of data, and tolerating even the most crowded environments such as sports stadiums or transportation hubs.  

Should you start preparing for 802.11ax now?

If you're looking at those numbers and thinking, "Where will this bandwidth be coming from?" you're asking the right question.  In a lot of cases, businesses will need to upgrade their network backbone - specifically Ethernet switches and potentially their wiring as well.  802.11ax may be what causes 10Gbps connections to become the standard for businesses, as well as pushing 40Gbps down into more affordable price ranges.

If you think you're going to want 802.11ax,  the time is coming to start looking into what it will take to upgrade your infrastructure to support it.

That said - this would also be a good time to take stock of your usage. If you have the data available, run some trending reports on how your Wi-Fi bandwidth demands have increased over the last few years. Are your bandwidth needs truly increasing fast enough that you'll need 802.11ax?  If not, you can probably afford to wait a couple more years before looking at upgrading.

Meraki AP

Topics: wifi, Wireless LAN

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