Just when we were getting used to 802.11ac there is chatter of the next iteration of WiFi technology, 802.11ax, coming out soon. For a pseudo-technologist like myself, it is a real bane keeping up with the pace of technological advancements. It is more painful to be able to technically understand, and explain to others, what this new advancement brings to the table. The short answer is: Speed (4x faster) and Throughput (10x more). To the regular WiFi user, that’s all that really matters and this is where you stop reading and go back to whatever you were doing. However, there are some things worth noting about this next generation WiFi that might lead us to appreciate just why this iteration was required.

Two of the key drivers for this upcoming standard have been:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): With the proliferation of WiFi radios in electronic devices (thermostats, lights, cameras etc) WiFi networks will have more machine users than human users.
  • Contention for data: In the existing standard, multiple users trying to access the network face a bottleneck where only so many channels are available. The analogy often used is that of people waiting in a queue while the teller (channel) serves the first person in the queue.

Humans and machines both want access to the network and both just can’t wait in a queue anymore! 802.11ax is overcoming this problem by integrating a cellular (LTE) technology called OFDMA (Orthagonal Frequency Division Multiple Access). OMG! WTH? In a nutshell, this technology allows a channel to be split into many sub-channels. In effect, and using the analogy in driver (2) above, 30 clients can access the same teller (channel) at the same time. From a user experience perspective, this translates as less congestion.

Here’s another added advantage of OFDMA and 802.11ax for the end-user: The battery life of their devices gets positively affected! This is because your device won’t have to work as hard to transmit faster. Additionally, the 802.11ax-enabled AP will be able to schedule service with your device (enabling your device to ‘sleep’, thereby saving power, while it serves other devices – all of this is done in very short bursts). Try this experiment next time on your cell phone and monitor how much battery power is consumed for each: (a) Watch a high-quality, 30-minute YouTube video over WiFi (switch off your cellular radio); (b) do the same thing this time over LTE (switch off your WiFi radio). You will see (and feel, as the phone gets hotter) just how much battery power is sapped by WiFi! This is what 802.11ax ought to fix to some extent.

There are other advantages, too, but just trying to explain all this technical jargon (a lot of which I don’t understand myself!) in layman language has sapped up all my charge.


(For more info click Network World. )