Leading Up To 802.11ax

In this new series, we are looking at 802.11ax and how it’s not just an improvement, but a game changer, versus 802.11ac.

Delivering a quality Wi-Fi experience can often seem like a complex, ongoing journey through changing WLAN standards and emerging technologies, and the continued promise the next standard will be “the one”.

The next fast approaching IEEE standard is 802.11ax, and it’s not just about speed anymore as it addresses some of today’s biggest high density and performance challenges – increasing capacity by up to 4x and improving spectral efficiency to benefit both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands in a variety of environments.

Wi-Fi has and will continue to develop and evolve to produce more bandwidth for your devices, but as the saying goes…build it and they will come. Your bandwidth will quickly be consumed; the more there is, the more they will take. “The Need for Speed”– it is natural that the underpinning infrastructure must adapt to support the changing workplace.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of WLAN and how the standard has changed over time. In 1999, wireless was really introduced as a “nice to have” with the 802.11 a and b ratifications. This standard had very low speeds (up to 11Mbps) but it was okay because there were no handhelds and very few laptops.

By 2003, however, some mobile devices that utilized Wi-Fi were coming out and portable laptops were becoming more standard both for business and personal use. That is when 802.11g was ratified delivering up to 54 Mbps. As we moved forward, in 2007 the birth of the smartphone really came about and along with it came the ratification of 802.11n. Even though 11n supported multiple data rates (speeds), a key point was its ability to deliver 100Mbps of ‘usable’ throughput, which was the accepted wired speed at that time, putting wireless for the first time on par with wired.

The “n” standard also brought about faster theoretical processing speeds of up to 450 Mbps for Wi-Fi and it supported both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz devices. Today, smart devices are robust enough to replace more expensive laptop technologies so wireless has had to catch up. This is where we get into the realm of 802.11ac. 802.11ac is the wireless technology that theoretically brings us into the age of Gigabit Wi-Fi and also ‘teased’ the industry with a promise of simultaneous multi-user communication.

However, it is important to note that simply throwing in faster technology won’t necessarily be enough; it takes more planning than that alone. Next time, we will look at what planning is involved to create robust Wi-Fi networks.


Alexandra Gates is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aerohive Networks, where she helps define market strategy and vision for the cloud and WLAN products. She is a CWNA with a comprehensive background in wireless technology, including capacity and management planning, RF design, network implementation, and general industry knowledge.

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