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Here Comes the Next Generation of 10Gbps Crazy Fast WiFi 802.11ax

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 10,268
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At present nearly all of the modern broadband routers and computers that you buy will support the 802.11ac standard for WiFi Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) via the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. But get ready because the 10Gbps capable 802.11ax standard is coming.

The current generation of 802.11ac Wave 2 based Wi-Fi networks (tech details) have by all accounts done quite a good job of squeezing a fair bit of extra speed out of the existing radio spectrum bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz). Indeed some of the fastest routers are already able to promote combined multi-Gigabit peak data transfer speeds of up to 3-5Gbps (Gigabits per second).

On top of that we’ve also had the lesser known 802.11ad standard, which made it possible to harness the 60GHz band in order to deliver theoretical data rates of up to around 7Gbps. Unfortunately this is only really useful for very short range line-of-sight style connectivity (i.e. connecting high bandwidth devices that sit in the same room as your router) and thus it isn’t quite as mainstream as 802.11ac.

However, despite these enhancements, most of us still find the WiFi connectivity that we install in our homes to be less than perfect, particularly in terms of its coverage and performance (at least not without having to install lots of expensive little signal boosters around the place). The popularity of WiFi also means that the spectrum has become much more congested, which makes it even harder to get a fast connection.

Say hello to 802.11ax

Granted we might never solve all of WiFi’s many woes, at least not without the technology being granted significantly more spectrum by regulators in coverage friendly bands (unlikely to happen as most such bands have already been allocated to Mobile networks, Satellites etc.), but the next generation standard of 802.11ax (aka – High Efficiency Wireless) still hopes to deliver a significant improvement.

The previous most recent 802.11ac Wave 2 standard has already produced several big enhancements to performance, such as MU-MIMO, support for four spatial streams and extended 5GHz channels etc. By comparison the new 802.11ax standard aims to build on those and will add a few big enhancements of its own, with a strong focus on lowering power consumption and tackling the problem of rising network congestion.

Key Improvements for 802.11ax

* The ability to fully combine 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands to both use 802.11ax at the same time. Take note that 802.11ax is technically also capable of addressing frequency bands between 1GHz and all the way up to 6GHz.

* Uplink support for MU-MIMO. The existing 802.11ac Wave 2 standard already supports MU-MIMO (Multi-User – Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) technology for downlink performance, which means that it is capable of multitasking by sending data to multiple devices at once rather than one-at-a-time. 802.11ax also allows this enhancement to work in the uplink direction too.

* Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) for both uplink and downlink. This is a big improvement, which has also made its way into a fair few other broadband technologies like DOCSIS 3.1. Essentially OFDMA is a low power solution that allows for simultaneous low-data-rate transmission from several users (i.e. it chops WiFi channels up into hundreds of smaller sub-channels and gives each one a different frequency).

* Support for 1024 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) modulation to increase throughput (the highest QAM for 802.11ac was 256).

* Various other power and efficiency enhancements, such as Trigger-based Random Access, Spatial Frequency Reuse, 2 Network Allocation Vectors, Target Wake Time (TWT), Dynamic Fragmentation (802.11ac only supported static fragmentation) and more..

As a result of these changes it’s predicted that 802.11ax based devices could achieve a four times increase in user throughput, thanks to more efficient spectrum utilization, and they’ll also be backwards compatible with previous Wi-Fi specifications (except 802.11ad because ax doesn’t harness the 60GHz band).

The first draft hardware is already about to surface and as usual we recommend that you avoid buying these until more mature kit surfaces, which can use the final specification. Some of the first devices to use the 802.11ax standard are the ASUS RT-AX88U router (speeds of up to 5952Mbps = 1148Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 4804Mbps on 5GHz) and the Huawei AP7060DN.

All of this is fast becoming very important, not least because of the problem with wireless network congestion but also due to the increasing coverage of multi-Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTH/P) broadband networks, which are going to put a much bigger strain on the broadband ISP and home networks of tomorrow.

Sadly we don’t expect to see hardware based off the fully approved and certified 802.11ax specification until 2019 (it could be Q4 of that year), which means that most of what you see being released this year (expect kit to show up during H2 2018) is still likely to use the unfinished draft standard.

As ever the biggest caveat with any new standard is that you’ll only benefit when the rest of your devices support it (i.e. there’s no need to buy an 802.11ax router until your Smartphone, Laptop etc. are equipped with it too).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Alex Bristol

    Anyone looking to buy a MU-MIMO router might first want to read this: (https://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-features/33100-why-you-don-t-need-mu-mimo?start=1), he tests routers in lab conditions and some makers have changed their products because of his reports.

    • Avatar spurple

      Interesting read.

      I recently upgraded my router from an ASUS RT-AC56U to a Linksys Velop system with two nodes, and the quality of Wifi is significantly better, so much so that I’ve reduced some clutter moving more devices to Wifi. This is talking about devices that are stationary and less than 3 metres from the access point (home entertainment appliances).

      I have no idea if the MU stuff in the router is responsible, or if it’s merely a better implemented hardware+software package as well as a faster CPU that has yielded this improvement but as the SNETBuilder article says, as the feature doesn’t really cost extra any more, it may not be so harmful to upgrade, considering you may wind up with more powerful hardware in the process.

      In my case, upgrading from a 4-year old device made a difference.

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