RTFM: Wireless Broadband Alliance squeezes out 40-page ode to the joy of Wi-Fi 6

Which means we're nearly there

Wi-fi symbol made out of clouds. Photo by Shutterstock

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has released guidelines for engineers who will have to implement Wi-Fi 6, meaning the advent of the 802.11ax standard is truly upon us – despite the fact it is not expected to be officially ratified until late 2019.

Wi-Fi 6 involves different propagation and coverage density characteristics than its predecessor, and offers better support for mesh networks, which means IT departments will have to adapt their deployment strategies.

The 40-page document, which can be downloaded here (registration required), outlines recommendations on band steering (i.e. automatic switching to a less congested band, channel, or AP), the use of MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output) technology, adjusting the number of APs in high-density deployments, and minimising RF interference. It even has pictures illustrating how not to deploy access points.

The document describes several potential use cases, including Wi-Fi in public venues, stadiums, residential and multi-dwelling units, as well as recommendations for the Internet of Things (IoT) and enterprise WLANs.

The aim, in the organisation's own words, is to help "mitigate some of the growing pains that Wi-Fi is experiencing" and help ensure SLAs around bandwidth, throughput, latency, traffic prioritisation and other factors.

The WBA was established in 2003 to encourage the growth of the global wireless ecosystem and resolve standards-related and technical issues. Its membership consists of network operators like China Telecom, NTT Docomo, Orange, Sprint, Telstra and T-Mobile, and technology providers like Aruba, Broadcom, Huawei, Nokia and Qualcomm. Google, Microsoft and Facebook are also, somehow, on the list.

Wi-Fi 6 promises lower latency, as much as four times more capacity than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), better performance in environments with many connected devices, and up to four times better power efficiency, thanks in part to the Target Wake Time (TWT) functionality.

"I think Wi-Fi 6 represents the end of the idea of wiring desks for Ethernet," Todd Nightingale, senior veep and GM at Meraki, a division of Cisco, previously told The Reg.

Wi-Fi 6 access points support concurrent 2.4GHz and 5GHz operation and are backwards-compatible with all previous Wi-Fi versions. That's just as well: only a handful of end-user devices currently support the new standard, the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S10 and Huawei Mate 20X smartphones among them.

Vendors that have already rolled out Wi-Fi 6 gear include Arista, Cisco, HPE's Aruba, Ruckus, Huawei, Netgear, Aerohive and TP-Link.

According to WBA, Wi-Fi devices now outnumber people, with around nine billion in use, and 76 per cent of US households are using Wi-Fi as the primary broadband connection.

"This latest white paper comes at a crucial time; not only is global demand for Wi-Fi continuing unabated, but operators worldwide are ramping up 5G networks, and governmental authorities around the world are preparing to open 6GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi traffic," said Tiago Rodrigues, general manager at WBA.

"Today's announcement illustrates the dedication of the WBA and its member companies to providing timely, expert direction to ensure that Wi-Fi deployments successfully accommodate all of these global factors." ®

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