Your guide to the latest in enterprise Wi-Fi
In today’s wireless world, the idea of having to connect a cable to “get online” is completely foreign to most of us. Unless you are a gamer or have some other reason to chase the last milliseconds of latency through ethernet, most of us go through our days seamlessly hopping from one wireless network to the next without giving it much thought. In fact, wireless technology has us in such a constantly connected state that we don’t even think about “getting online” anymore — instead, we sometimes have to intentionally seek out disconnecting just to get away. The world is a far different place today than it was in 1997 when the IEEE 802.11 standard, which eventually became known as Wi-Fi, was released. The original standard allowed connection rates up to 2 megabits per second (Mbit/s) on the 2.4-GHz band which was faster than most internet connections at the time. Within a year, the original specification was made obsolete by the 802.11b amendment allowing for up to 11Mbit/s operating on the same 2.4-GHz band. Advancements in waveforms, modulation, and access to new frequency spectrums quickly brought 802.11a, 802.11n, 802.11ac, 802.11ad, 802.11af, and now 802.11ax.
If you find all of the letters appended on to 802.11 confusing, fear not because most enterprise Wi-Fi access points on the market today are compliant with more than one Wi-Fi standard. That means you don’t have to choose between 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n — you can get compliance with all the common standards in the latest 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) access points. This compatibility will generally be listed as 802.11b/g/n and 802.11a/n/ac. As long as you see the 802.11ac or newer 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) listed, you’ll have the backward compatibility needed to allow access for older devices/standards.
If all the IEEE standard letters weren’t enough for you, setting up a wireless network will also have you sorting through MIMO and MU-MIMO. MIMO is a set of Multiple Input Multiple Output technologies for multipath wireless communication. MU-MIMO adds multi-user (MU) access capability to the antenna. MU-MIMO was first introduced in 802.11ac and allows for multiple devices to send and receive at the same time. MU-MIMO becomes a huge benefit for networks where many users are trying to access the network at once. The result is better Wi-Fi performance through more efficient use of channels and less congestion. Most of your high-end Wi-Fi access points currently support MU-MIMO. Not all client devices support MU-MIMO but flagship endpoints such as smartphones (iPhone 11 and Galaxy Note 10, and Galaxy S10) are being released to support Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) which includes MU-MIMO.
When designing a Wi-Fi environment, you will need to know the intended user density of the space. In a Wi-Fi system, access points are distributed throughout the coverage area in order to provide optimal connections. The access points are stationary, mostly unobstructed, and don’t create density issues. Density becomes an issue when Wi-Fi users congregate within an area blocking RF signals, creating congestion, and increasing noise within the system. If more than 30 users are expected to simultaneously use a single access point, your environment is considered High Density. Access points designed for High-Density environments use a dedicated radio for spectrum RF monitoring enabling better performance.
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is the highly anticipated latest release in the 802.11 standard. The Wi-Fi 6 standard was finalized in 2019. Many client devices implementing Wi-Fi 6 are already available and Wi-Fi 6 access points are just now being released by manufacturers. Wi-Fi 6 allows for high data speeds (up to 40% faster than Wi-Fi 5), longer battery life for devices, and better performance in crowded areas.
Whether you are considering upgrading an existing Wi-Fi environment, establishing a new environment, or protecting your employees’ home Wi-Fi, we’re here to help.