This article is for nerds and tech geeks. For others who use Wi-Fi, I am pretty sure they don’t even know what a Wi-Fi standard is and what standard their current Wi-Fi router or smartphone uses. For those who want to learn about Wi-Fi standards, currently most devices we use including our routers, smartphones, laptops, PCs etc support the 802.11ac Wi-Fi Standard.
There is an international agency called Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which fixes the Wi-Fi standards after due deliberation. The first 802.11 Wi-Fi standard was introduced in 1997 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). This meant that all devices that connected to the Internet at that time had to comply with the new WLAN standard. IEEE called the Wi-Fi standard as 802.11 after the name of the group formed to oversee its development. The year was 1997 and the newly introduced WLAN standard supported a maximum internet speed of 2 Mbps which you may think as too slow today but was a hit at that time.
IEEE then introduced the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard in July 1999. This new WLAN could support bandwidth up to 11 Mbps, comparable to traditional Ethernet. The 802.11b used the same radio signaling frequency (2.4 GHz) as the original 802.11 standard. While it was a big hit at that time, 802.11b signals were known to be prone to interference from microwave ovens, cordless phones, and other appliances using the same 2.4 GHz range, therefore, people placed their Wi-Fi routers and devices in a special place to avoid external interference.
Even as 802.11b was in development, IEEE created a second extension to the original 802.11 standard called 802.11a. Because 802.11b gained in popularity much faster than did 802.11a. Due to its higher cost, 802.11a is usually found on business networks whereas 802.11b better serves the home market.
The new 802.11a Wi-Fi standard supported speeds of up to 54 Mbps which was way over the 11Mbps which we started off with. Another distinguishing feature of 802.11a was that it worked on 5 GHz thus was less prone to interference from home devices but higher frequency also means 802.11a signals had more difficulty penetrating walls.
In 2002 and 2003, IEEE came up with a newer Wi-Fi standard called 802.11g. The 802.11g combined the best of both 802.11a and 802.11b and supported bandwidth up to 54 Mbps. Unlike 802.11a, 802.11g used the 2.4 GHz frequency for greater range. 802.11g was backward compatible with 802.11b, meaning that 802.11g access points will work with 802.11b wireless network adapters and vice versa.
In 2009, IEEE introduced 802.11n Wi-Fi standard which is also called “Wireless N” network. 802.11n was vastly different from earlier standards as it utilized multiple wireless signals and antennas (called MIMO technology) instead of one. The new standard also increased the bandwidth speed to a whopping 300 Mbps. 802.11n also offered somewhat better range over earlier Wi-Fi standards due to its increased signal intensity, and it is backward-compatible with 802.11b/g gear.
After years of using 802.11n, IEEE finally introduced the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard that we use today in 2013. Though it was developed in 2008, IEEE took a whole 5 years to commercialize the specification. 802.11ac finally broke the 1 gigs barrier and supported dual-band wireless technology. which means that we could connect to the Internet both on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands. 802.11ac offers backward compatibility to 802.11b/g/n and bandwidth rated up to 1300 Mbps on the 5 GHz band plus up to 450 Mbps on 2.4 GHz.
From 2013 to 2017 we have been using the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard but now a new standard is being introduced which is called 802.11ax. Qualcomm, the top chip maker has announced that it will start shipping Wi-Fi chips called the IPQ8074 system-on-chip (SoC) for broadcasters (routers and access points) and the QCA6290 SoC for receivers (Wi-Fi devices) with the 802.11ax standard.
According to Qualcomm, the 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard will be anywhere from 4x to 10x faster than existing Wi-Fi because it will work through wider and multiple channels to increase the Internet speed. For example, if one assumes the speed is increased by 4x with 160 MHz channels, the speed of a single 802.11ax stream will be 3.5Gbps. The equivalent 802.11ac connection will be 866 Mbps. A 4×4 MIMO environment would result in a total capacity of about 14 Gbps. A client device that supported two or three streams would easily top 1 Gbps or much more.
For individual users, even with interference like walls and distance, 802.11ax will give a speed of about 800 Mbps for a total capacity of 3.2 Gbps. Regardless of the channel size, 802.11ax will provide a huge boost in speed and total capacity.
802.11ax incorporates something called ODMFA. Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (ODMFA) is an LTE standard which allows frequency division multiplexing. 802.11ax uses OFDMA which lets each channel to be chopped up into hundreds of smaller sub-channels. These sub-channels can then be turned orthogonally (at right angles) so they can be stacked on top of each other and de-multiplexed.
In simple terms using OFDMA means up to 30 clients can share each channel instead of having to take turns broadcasting and listening on each.
Qualcomm has said that the new 802.11ax standard will have a big effect on the thing that matters most to all of us, battery! The new Wi-Fi standard has a new feature called wake time scheduling. This enables APs to tell clients when to go to sleep and provides a schedule of when to wake. These are very short periods of time, but being able to sleep a bunch of short times will make a big difference on battery life which matters most especially for smartphone and laptop users.
The 802.11ax specification finally brings a Wi-Fi standard to the network that can support all of the things we want to do with our wireless LANs.
Do you think the new 802.11ax standard will be as popular as 802.11ac in coming days. Do drop in your opinion in the comments section below.