WiFi at 25 Races Ahead with 802.11ax

The next big thing for the WiFi specification is still years away, but will add significant performance.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Sep 11, 2015
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25 years ago, back in 1997, the 802.11 WiFi specifications were first defined. Since then, WiFi has helped to reshape the world we live in, making pervasive wireless data connectivity the norm and giving birth to a new era of mobility and connectivity.

Adrian Stephens, chair of the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Working Group, explained to Enterprise Networking Planet that the IEEE is a standards body where natural competitors come together.

"Standards enable markets," Stephens said.

Stephens noted that 25 years ago, it was impossible to predict the impact that the 802.11 WiFi standard would have on the world. While WiFi has largely been a success, over the years there have been some small hiccups, including the 802.11n rollout, which had multiple vendors rush to market in pre-standard implementations.

The latest market-deployed WiFi standard is 802.11ac, which provides even more bandwidth and reliability than 802.11n. There is still further innovation yet to come in 802.11 with the upcoming 802.11ax standard.

"IEEE 802.11ax will enable higher throughput that addresses fairness issues that have been a challenge in some limited high-density deployments," Stephens said.

From a bandwidth perspective, 802.11ax could scale to 10 Gbps and beyond when the standard is completed. The higher bandwidth will be achieved by way of innovations in multi-user techniques.

"802.11n introduced spatial multi-plexing, where multiple antennas can talk to the same device, and 802.11ac introduced the ability to talk to multiple devices simultaneously using different spatial streams," Stephens said. "802.11ax introduces the reverse of that, where the access point coordinates transmissions from multiple stations simultaneously."

802.11ax also presents a technique that will divide a frequency channel into small slices, on which devices will transmit their part of the message on that slice. That technique will make use of optimized slices for each particular device. The slicing technique also promises to offer greater range than 802.11ac.

The 802.11ax specification could also serve to further enable the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve range, though Stephen noted that today IEEE also has the 802.11ah specification, which makes use of the 900 MHz spectrum for IoT.

From a timeline perspective, 802.11ax is still years away from being a formal specification and might not be ready for market until March of 2019.

Overall, Stephens commented that there is huge pressure on spectrum already today, and data usage on WiFi continues to grow. It's a process that the 802.11 WiFi standard understands and scales for.

"Since we started only one megabit of throughput back in 1997 with the first 802.11 standard, until 802.11ax is a 10,000 fold increase in throughput," Stephens said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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