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WIFI6: What can the new WLAN do?

Wi-Fi 6 is the name of the latest WLAN generation. With it, real-time applications are supposed to work reliably in the WLAN - even in industrial production. Our guide shows what the new WLAN generation has to offer and what to look out for during installation.

Photo: ©Looker_Studio

The first Wi-Fi-6 devices are commercially available. Finally, real-time applications should work reliably in WLAN - even in industrial production. Our guide shows what the new WLAN generation has to offer.

One new feature of Wi-Fi 6 is obvious to everyone: instead of cryptic IEEE abbreviations such as 802.11ac, 802.11ax, 802.11n, etc., future WLAN standards will have simple designations. For example, the new variant is simply called Wi-Fi 6 instead of 802.11ax, while Wi-Fi 5 is used for the predecessor 802.11ac. And 802.11n becomes Wi-Fi 4 in the new nomenclature.

But what does the new standard bring besides more speed? What should be taken into account during implementation? What does it do in a professional environment? When should a user opt for Wi-Fi 6? Falko Binder, Head of Enterprise Networking Architecture Sales Germany at Cisco, helped us answer these and other questions about Wi-Fi 6.

What speed can the user expect with Wi-Fi 6 in practice and in theory?

Compared to Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 achieves up to 1.5 times higher speeds: The new standard enables a maximum speed of up to 4.8 Gbit/s per client; with Wi-Fi 5, this is a maximum of 3.12 Gbit/s. A corresponding MacBook Pro with 3SS, for example, supports 1.3 Gbit/s gross transmission speed. In practice, a net throughput of about 50 per cent of the theoretical transmission speed or slightly higher can be achieved.

What other advantages does Wi-Fi 6 offer?

The advantages of Wi-Fi 6 go far beyond new speed records. Especially when many end devices and IoT devices are connected to the WLAN, the new standard provides a significantly more reliable network connection, as larger data streams can be processed simultaneously. In addition, the standard offers more predictable performance for advanced applications, such as 4K or 8K video transmission, HD applications for collaboration in high-density environments, fully wireless networked office environments and the IoT.

And what does it offer for professional use?

The significantly higher speed, improved performance and the other advantages mentioned above compared to previous standards make Wi-Fi 6 particularly attractive for professional use. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 allows companies and service providers to deploy new applications in the same WLAN infrastructure as older applications, while improving the quality of service of the older applications.

What has changed technically compared to previous WLAN standards?

These include the following technical innovations:

  • Denser modulation with 1024-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) for a speed increase of more than 35 percent

  • Scheduling is based on OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) for less overhead and lower latency

  • Robust, highly efficient signal transmission for better operation with significantly lower RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication)

  • Better scheduling and longer battery life for devices thanks to TWT (Target Wake Time)

How can I tell if a device supports Wi-Fi 6?

This can be recognised by corresponding logos and QR codes on the products.

Which older WLAN standards is Wi-Fi 6 compatible with?

Like all other new versions in recent years, Wi-Fi 6 will be backwards compatible. Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices must also support the 802.11a, b, g, n, and ac standards. The new standard will be based on existing technologies and increase their efficiency.

How do consumer and professional devices differ?

Due to the still limited range of available devices, it is difficult to judge at present. In general, the difference will become smaller with 802.11ax, since every client must contain the mandatory functions from the standard.

Is Wi-Fi 6 now designed more for private use or for professional use?

Both private and professional use will benefit from the increased speed of the new standard. However, the considerable advantages in terms of efficiency, flexibility and scalability will be particularly noticeable in professional use when many end devices are connected to the network.

Are there features that are specifically intended for business use?

No, there are no special features exclusively for business use. But Wi-Fi 6 is optimised for many simultaneously used clients. This is especially advantageous in the IoT world, where many small sensors and control devices are used. They operate at lower transmission speeds, which increase the range to the access point. At the same time, clients close to the access point can be served at high transmission speeds.

What do users need to consider when deploying a Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure? For example, can the access points be re-installed in the same place - or does the illumination have to be re-measured?

In general, the access points can be installed in the same place, as long as proper illumination has been done. In high-density environments such as trade fairs or lecture halls, the access points should be placed somewhat closer together, if necessary, in order to take advantage of the higher possible speeds. These require a higher signal quality (SNR - Signal Noise Ratio).

Wi-Fi 6 offers significantly higher performance. What consequences does this have for the backbone? And will WLAN switches have to be replaced?

The new Wi-Fi 6 access points will be equipped with multi-gigabit interfaces and support fast and gigabit Ethernet. Depending on the access point, up to 2.5 (4x4 + 4x4) or 5 (8x8 + 4x4) Gbit/s will be supported. In high-density environments, it is therefore advisable to replace the switches with multi-gigabit-capable switches. In other environments with many IoT end devices, Gigabit Ethernet will be sufficient.

Older WLAN standards were quickly disturbed by walls, water pipes, underfloor heating, etc. Is Wi-Fi 6 also as susceptible to interference?

Wi-Fi 6 uses the same frequencies as the previous standards. This means that the physical attenuation of walls, water pipes, underfloor heating, etc. is the same. An improvement can result from MU-MIMO in the uplink of the clients to the access point. However, this is not a "susceptibility to interference", but a normal physical phenomenon: the higher the frequency, the greater the attenuation of the materials, which is taken into account accordingly in an illumination.

For many users, classic WLANs quickly fell to their knees. Is Wi-Fi 6 now better suited for trade fairs, airports, etc.?

Especially in so-called high-density areas such as airports, railway stations and trade fairs, where many end devices and IoT devices access the WLAN at the same time, Wi-Fi 6 ensures a more reliable network connection. Since the new standard can handle a significantly larger number of data streams simultaneously, a much higher load on the network is possible without causing delays for users. With an 8x8 access point in the 5 GHz range, up to eight clients can communicate with the access point simultaneously. With the Wi-Fi 1 to 5 standards, it was only one client.

Another problem so far has been the lack of real-time capability of the WLANs and the lack of Quality of Service (QoS). Has this now been resolved?

The real-time capability is significantly improved with Wi-Fi 6, as up to eight clients can communicate with the access point simultaneously. In addition, the use of the frequency band has been optimised by so-called "resource units". These RUs use only a small part of the bandwidth per channel or channel bundle (20, 40, 80 or 160 MHz) and no longer the entire bandwidth for a client.

The access point can assign one or more RUs to a client, depending on the bandwidth requested by the client. Wireless LAN is still a "shared medium", but with Wi-Fi 6, significantly more clients can communicate with the access point. This enables more reliable transmission for real-time applications.

Real-time capability also includes seamless handover between the individual WLAN cells. What does this look like?

Seamless handover is provided by the fast roaming standard 802.11r. Other protocols such as 802.11k and 802.11v support fast roaming. However, many clients cannot always fully support these standards. In addition, 802.11ax is also generally not a real-time protocol and may not be suitable for all variants of control technology.

Wi-Fi 6 is also being promoted for use in production environments as an alternative to 5G. How susceptible is Wi-Fi 6 to electromechanical interference?

Electromechanical operations can generate radio waves that can potentially interfere with the wireless LAN in the 2.4 or 5 GHz range. Wi-Fi 6 and also its predecessors have mechanisms that detect whether a data packet has been transmitted incorrectly and repeat the transmission if errors are detected. Wi-Fi 6 therefore offers no significant improvements here compared to Wi-Fi 1 to 5.

What are the advantages compared to the use of 5G as a local radio technology?

For nationwide 5G coverage, a radio mast would have to be erected at least every 1000 metres. This is because the range of 5G is a maximum of around 500 metres. This means that 5G will not be available everywhere inside buildings. Wi-Fi 6 and its predecessors offer optimal data transmission possibilities inside buildings. Even the outdoor area can be very well supplied with Wi-Fi if 5G reception is not (yet) possible. New end devices will thereby offer a quick switch between 5G and Wi-Fi in order to use the optimally available access technology. (Computerwoche)



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