802.11ax: The 802.11 Family Continues to Grow

Carl Weinschenk
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The 802.11 family of standards is an extraordinary success story. It was basically unknown in the 1990s and now is a co-leader, with LTE, as the way in which people around the world communicate wirelessly.

It is fundamentally different from cellular techniques. In the U.S., the government doesn’t license or charge for Wi-Fi spectrum, which means it is far cheaper than cellular. Wi-Fi also has far more variations. While movement in the cellular world, from 3G to LTE, for instance, is a linear and laborious process, Wi-Fi standards tend to pile atop each other, with one displacing another on an as-needed basis.

A new version of 802.11, 802.11ax, is starting to take shape. The idea, according to GigaOm, is to increase speeds to the devices people are using. To date, speeds have been accelerating, but the focus is on measurements that are distant enough from the endpoints to be inaccurate gauges of how much capacity is available to individual users:

With 802.11ax, though, wireless engineers are making sure the individual, not just the network, gets its fair share of attention, said Greg Ennis, VP of Technology for the Wi-Fi Alliance. Though the IEEE is still in the early stages of developing the 801.11ax specifications (we likely won’t have a ratified standard until at least 2018), it has begun setting priorities for the new technology, Ennis said. And at the top of that list is a 4X increase in speed to device, possibly pushing individual device connections into the gigabit range.

CED and other sites report that Huawei has taken the early lead on 802.11ax. The company said that it has tested the specification at 10.53 Gigabits per second (Gbps) in the 5 GHz frequency band. The tests were conducted at Huawei labs in Shenzhen, China. This is 10 times faster than speeds available today.

A new standard, even an iteration of a well-established one, is a big deal. Last month, Stephen Rayment, Ericsson’s head of technology for Wi-Fi and Mobile Enterprise, offered a presentation that dug a bit deeper into 802.11ax. In March, he indicated, the task group working on 802.11ax mandated the 4x download speed mentioned in the GigaOm story.

According to the slide deck for the presentation, 802.11ax will maintain or improve power efficiency, operate in the bands between 1 GHz and 6 GHz, be backward compatible to other 802.11 standards, and operate at stationary and pedestrian speeds. The presentation also described some of the deeper technical decisions that must be made by the group.

802.11ax is nowhere near ready. However, it is ahead of 5G, the next version of cellular. What is obvious is that mobile technology is evolving quickly. That’s a good thing, since wireless demand continues to grow by orders of magnitude.

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