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When will networking embrace the 802.11ax standard?

The pending 802.11ax standard offers 10 Gbps speeds up to 40% faster than Wave 2 802.11ac.

Any current, credible networking conference that has a wireless track will likely have at least one speculative...

session on the 802.11ax standard. For certain, those individuals developing the new standard, which is the next big WLAN thing beyond 802.11ac, are already neck-deep in this exciting technology.

What the new 802.11ax standard offers

In a nutshell, the 802.11ax standard promises speeds in excess of 10 Gbps -- almost 40% faster than Wave 2 802.11ac. It builds upon existing Wi-Fi techniques, including the use of multiple-input-multiple-output spatial streams, along with technologies underpinning today's Long Term Evolution cellular networks. It will also employ frequency-division multiplexing techniques, such as orthogonal frequency-division multiple access, to significantly boost spectral efficiency. The end result is higher speeds and the ability to provide more mobile users access to high-bandwidth applications and services.

Vendors that don't have representation at the 802.11ax standard development table are no doubt following as closely as they can, but what about those of us in the Wi-Fi trenches? We're hardly through with the 802.11ac lifecycle, so when should we start worrying about 802.11ax?

Anyone with skin in the game should be starting to educate themselves now.

Given the rapid nature of Wi-Fi's continued evolution, it should be no surprise that 802.11ax is generating buzz a couple of years ahead of its expected ratification in 2019. Enough about its more exciting aspects are trickling out in the form of presentations like the ones from Hewlett Packard Enterprise-Aruba's Chuck Lukaszewski and Eldad Perahia from the WLAN Professional Conferences of the last couple of years. I heard both of these firsthand, and it's heady stuff. At these sessions, many among the audience want to know when .11ax will become something they need to worry about.

When, indeed? The simple answer is as soon as possible, but with a caveat. The 802.11ax standard will be a game changer in many ways. If it lives up to early expectations, both the complexity of enterprise Wi-Fi and the performance deliverable in even the highest-density WLAN environments will be an order of magnitude more than .11ac's best.

Many of today's more important 802.11 protocol underpinnings will change, and Wi-Fi will become more like cellular -- a common analogy used to indicate that the wireless access point will be in charge of much more than it is today at the discrete operational level .

This brings us to that caveat I mentioned.

Educating yourself about 802.11ax

There are a lot of resources out there explaining what the 802.11ax standard will likely amount to, so anyone with skin in the game should be starting to educate themselves now. If you can catch someone involved with actually developing the standard who may be speaking at an industry event, by all means leverage that opportunity.

But, if you don't yet have a good handle on today's 802.11ac standard, you'll find that even high-level chatter about .11ax will make your head spin. I recommend that anyone doing Wi-Fi-related work in any capacity -- including sales and marketing -- get educated now with the Certified Wireless Network Administrator course from CWNP.

Getting a solid handle on enterprise WLAN today will help you to grasp .11ax in the days to come. But I can also tell you that even those of us who are considered experts are anticipating quite the learning curve when the new standard comes to life, and so we are learning what we can now.

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This was last published in August 2017

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