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It seems like only yesterday that the first wave of 802.11ac (the current wireless standard) devices were released. The reality is that 802.11ac has been around for over three years, and now its successor, 802.11ax, is in the works, though you likely won’t see an 802.11ax router in your local retailer until 2018. But what can we expect from the new standard? Of course there is a focus on increased speed, but there is an equal focus on increased capacity. Without getting too technical, the focus on increased capacity is to address wireless “overcrowding”; the coexistence of many wireless devices in a relatively small geographic area.

 

Let’s look at the performance enhancements and associated technologies proposed in the 802.11ax standard:

 

  • Improved multi-user MIMO means routers can stream wireless beams simultaneously to multiple users. Unlikely with 802.11ac, they can also now do this with both uploads and downloads (802.11ac only did this with uploads).
  • OFDMA means rather than having users take turns broadcasting and listening on each channel, up to 30 users will be able to share each channel.
  • Combining the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands creates more channels for data, and 1024 QAM encoding (which is an experimental feature in some 802.11ac routers) allows for more data per packet.
  • Uplink scheduling takes some of the delay out of waiting for a free channel, as routers can tell clients when they’ll have time to listen for uploads.
  • Wake time scheduling lets routers tell clients to take a nap until they have time to chat, scheduling when to wake up in advance. That helps save battery life.

 

Like previous wireless standards, a wireless router (or access point) capable of 802.11ax as well as a connecting device capable of 802.11ax will be required to take advantage of the increased performance. However, with theoretical speeds of up to 10 Gbps possible and likely real-world speeds of around 4 Gbps, 802.11ax is definitely something to look out for.

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