With all the (justifiable) excitement about the impending arrival of 5G wireless service, it would be easy to overlook two other developments in wireless networking that could have an even greater impact on businesses than 5G, at least in the short term.
The first is Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11 ax. The standard is in the final stages of ratification, but products based on the draft standard are already trickling onto the market. Expect adoption to take off quickly because Wi-Fi 6 fixes many of the shortcomings of earlier versions.
The new standard delivers only about a 40% boost in peak data rates over the current one, but perceived performance will be dramatically better. One big reason is because Wi-Fi 6 implements a form of network slicing that enables a single wireless channel to be divided into multiple subchannels.
This technology, called orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), can give each device connected to an access point the equivalent of its own dedicated channel at the full speed of the network.
A better shared experience
This feature addresses one of the most frustrating aspects of using Wi-Fi in a crowded space like a coffee shop (remember those?): slow performance. Shared bandwidth slows performance for everyone, but OFDMA enables signals to be dedicated to each individual device. When combined with another innovation—multiple input, multiple output—many devices on a Wi-Fi 6 network can interact with the wireless access point at the same time, as if each had a dedicated channel.
Coverage is improved in the new standard through better use of the 2.4 GHz frequency, which penetrates solid objects more effectively than the 5 GHz frequency that has been used in the past for signal quality reasons. A feature called beamforming enables routers to detect where a device requesting data is located and to transmit a localised data stream in that direction.
There’s also a new feature, called Wake on Wireless LAN, that allows devices to connect only when needed rather than all the time, as previous standards required. That will significantly increase battery life on those endpoints and enable much larger device populations in an Internet of Things scenario to connect to a single access point.
Wi-Fi 6 supports secure, seamless roaming through Passpoint, which enables users to authenticate only once to a given access point and then make connections automatically. Finally, the standard supports the WPA3 security protocol, providing greater password protection, individualised encryption for personal and open networks and even stronger cryptographic protection for enterprise networks.
All told, Wi-Fi 6 will enable new use case scenarios. The limitations of shared bandwidth made performance so unpredictable in earlier versions of 802.11 that applications demanding reliable connections had to be hardwired. Many will be freed of those tethers in the future, making new uses of robotics and sensors possible.
PC users will enjoy high-quality video experiences without jitter and fuzz-outs. Large file transfers to and from the cloud will be faster and more reliable. Users working from home will be able to tote their laptops anywhere without worrying about dropped signals. Retailers and restaurateurs will give their customers reliable performance that keeps them in their stores or at their tables longer.
Enabling private 5G networks
A second wireless innovation that few people are aware of is Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a standard that’s completely unrelated to the Citizens Band radio service that was popular in the 1970s. CBRS covers a swath of spectrum in the 3550-3700 MHz range that was recently cleared for public use in the U.S. although not yet in the U.K. However, Ofcom has indicated that it is eager to make a similar service available in Britain.
CBRS is intended for geographically bounded areas such as factories and sports arenas. It’s faster than Wi-Fi and reaches farther but has the limitation of being licensed, meaning that prospective users must gain FCC approval to use it, and that isn’t guaranteed. Carriers are expected to license CBRS spectrum to expand their services into targeted geographical areas, but enterprises can use it as well.
The biggest appeal for businesses is that CBRS can be used as a carrier medium for 4G and 5G services. That makes it possible for them to run their own 5G networks without involving carriers, something that hasn’t been possible in the past. That’s particularly appealing in scenarios where a carrier’s 5G infrastructure can’t support the needed capacity.
For example, a stadium owner could use CBRS to create a private 5G network to deliver customised video to fans in the stands without investing in hundreds of Wi-Fi access points. Whereas earlier versions of Wi-Fi can slow down under the weight of too many simultaneous users, CBRS provides more frequencies and more precise delivery.
Connectivity features built for today’s remote working environment enhance business collaboration. Integrated Wi-Fi 6 gives employees fast connections to not only work from anywhere but also enjoy premium experiences with a connection strong enough to support the most bandwidth-demanding applications, such as video conferencing and content creation.
PCs based on the 11th Generation Intel® vPro® platform have integrated Wi-Fi 6/Wi-Fi 6E (Gig+) to provide nearly three times faster speeds, the latest generation of WPA3 security and up to four times greater capacity for more stable connections, even in dense environments. Learn more here about how Intel vPro delivers the combination of security, reliability and performance that enterprise customers demand.