Wi-Fi standard promises low power, low latency for the IoT

Just as cellular networking is on the cusp of gigabit broadband with 5G, so too is wireless local area networking (WLAN) with IEEE 802.11ax.

The standard for this latest iteration of Wi-Fi, sometimes referred as Wi-Fi Max, is still not finalized, though it is close. It makes use of many of the same technologies and techniques adopted by 5G to improve spectral efficiency, including MIMO (massive input, massive output – essentially the use of multiple antennas), OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access), and higher order modulation (1024 QAM).

Relying on these technologies, 11ax has achieved throughputs in excess of 10 Gbps in controlled demonstrations. In practice, data rates will be lower but users will still have access to streams of multiple gigabits per second. The range of 11ax routers should also be far superior to those based on preceding versions of Wi-Fi.

By the way, engineers are already working on the next steps with 11ax. It currently operates at 2.4 MHz and at 5 MHz; one new capability would be using yet another slice of unlicensed spectrum in the 6 MHz band (see Wi-Fi Preps Leap to 6 GHz).

In the past, every new generation of Wi-Fi has come with an acceleration of data rates, supporting new applications. These new applications tended to be consumer-oriented, such as web browsing or viewing streaming video. This latest version of Wi-Fi was created with the IoT in mind, and to that end, it supports low-power operation, lower latencies, and other performance requirements associated with machine-to-machine communications in a wide variety of applications. The ability to support performance parameters that might vary greatly from one application to the next depending on specific needs is another similarity with 5G.

While 11ax can certainly support residential IoT applications such as home automation, as with 5G, many of the first access points announced are built not for residential routing but for enterprise/industrial markets. And just as the first batch of 5G access points are beginning to dribble out, so too are the first 11ax APs.
Celano, Intel (Lantiq), Marvell, and Quantenna are among the other companies providing 11ax chips and chipsets. The most recently announced is a wireless system-on-a-chip (SoC) from Marvell that the company says is the first in a 2×2 plus 2×2 configuration. The dual concurrent Wi-Fi operation is designed for connected vehicles; having two antennas instead of one is expected to provide better signal penetration and stronger coverage, the company notes.

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