The first wave of 802.11ac WiFi routers are starting to show up in use and already there is something faster on the horizon. IEEE has announced that they are starting to work on a new standard named 802.11ax and it looks like the new standard might be able to deliver on some of the hype and promises that were mistakenly made about 802.11ac. This new standard probably is not going to be released until 2018.
I call it unfortunate because 802.11ac has widely been referred to as gigabit WiFi but it is not even close to that. In the real world application of the technology it’s been reported that the ac routers can improve performance over today’s 802.11n routers by between 50% and 100%. That is a significant improvement and it is shame that the marketing hype of the companies that push the technology has created an unfulfillable expectation for these routers. I refer you to my earlier blog that compares the reality to the hype.
The gigabit name given to 802.11ac has more to do with the increased capacity of the router to handle large bandwidth than it did with the connection speeds to any given device. But the 802.11ax standard is going to turns its attention to increasing the connections to users. The early goal of the new standard is to increase bandwidth to devices by as much as 4 times over what can be delivered with 802.11ac.
This improvement is going to come through the use of MIMO-OFDA. MIMO is multiple input – multiple output and refers to a system that has multiple antennas in the router. Devices can also have multiple antennas although that’s not required. OFDA stands for orthogonal frequency division multiplexing and is a standard used in 4G wireless networks today
The combination of those two techniques means that more bits can be forced through a single connection to one device using a single receiving antenna. Making each individual connections from the router more efficient will improve the overall efficiency of the base router.
Interestingly, Huawei is already using these techniques in the lab and they are experiencing raw data rates as fast as 10 gigabits from a router. Huawei is one of the leaders of the 802.11ax standards process and they don’t believe these routers will be market ready until at least 2018
What I find most puzzling in today’s environment is that a lot of vendors have bought hook, line and sinker into the 802.11ac hype . For example, it’s been reported that a number of FTTH vendors and settop box vendors are touting the use of 802.11ac instead of cabling to route TV signals around a home. This might work for single family homes on large lots where there won’t be a lot of interference, but I can foresee many situations where this is going to be a challenge
Certainly there is a lot of chance for interference when you try to do this in an urban environment where living units are crammed a lot closer together. I highlighted some of the forms of WiFi interference in another earlier blog. But there are always other situations where WiFi will not be a great solution for transmitting cable signals between multiple sets. For example, there are plenty of older homes built in the fifties or earlier that have plaster walls with wire mesh lathe which can stop a WiFi signal dead. And there are homes that are larger than the range of the WiFi signal when considering walls and impediments.
But it looks like the 802.11ax standard will finally create enough bandwidth to individual devices to enable WiFi as a reliable alternate to cabling within a house. My fear is that there are going to be so many cases where 802.11ac is a problem that WiFi is going to get a bad name before then. I fear the vendors who are relying on WiFi instead of wires might have been a generation too premature. I hope I’m wrong, but 802.11ac does not look to be enough of an improvement over our current WiFi that it can act as a reliable alternative to wires.