Should we choose WiFi 6 now?
WiFi 6 brings a large number of significant improvements, especially in terms of speed and density.
But the standard is different from previous versions. Here are some ways to verify that your cable network and your business can use it. The WiFI 6 standard (802.11ax) and its innovations make the use of wireless even more attractive. Its speed allows considering multi-gigabit wireless connections in the real world, but also the support of high density networks such as in stadiums for example.
However, there are some questions to ask yourself before making the jump to WiFi 6.
Evaluating your speed needs
To allow wireless speeds of several gigabits to be supported, most WiFi 6 access points are equipped with a LAN connection of 2.5 or 5 Gbps. In comparison, the interface of almost all WiFi 5 access points is limited to 1 Gbps. It is possible to connect a WiFi access point 6 to an existing gigabit network, but, due to this bottleneck, the connection speeds to the internal local network or the Internet cannot exceed 1 Gbps.
However, your business may not need such fast WiFi access speeds. If the use of WiFi is occasional and limited to smartphones and laptops installed on site, the company will probably be able to do without the new standard. But the full capacity of WiFi 6 can be interesting if a large number of users connect to your network or for sensitive or high-speed applications, such as the streaming of 4K videos, especially if the content comes from a local LAN rather than the Internet.
Prepare your wired network
An inventory of your current network is necessary to know if you need to update your wiring to take advantage of multi-gigabit support. To do this, take a closer look at the following elements:
- Switches: check the maximum data rate supported by all the switches located between the access points and the router. If WiFi clients have access to network sharing features on the LAN, follow the traffic path and also rate these switches.
- PoE: if you use Power over Ethernet (PoE) support via the switch or via external injectors to supply access points, check the PoE standard and the data rates supported. Keep in mind that most WiFi access points 6 must at least comply with the PoE + standard (802.3at). Even if some access points support the legacy PoE standard (802.3af), their performance will generally be lower and the maximum speed supported will probably not exceed 1 Gbps. To ensure the sustainability of your PoE, it is better to opt for a switch or an injector supporting the new PoE +++ standard (802.3bt), if it is available for this hardware.
- Wiring: to exceed the speed of 1 Gbps wired, the APs and any connection between them and the router must be connected by Cat6 wiring. For the future, it is better to move towards the Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7, Cat7a, or even the Cat8 if it is available and plausible.
If your company is wired in Cat5e or with older cabling, be aware that you may not have to re-wire each Ethernet jack. It all depends on how WiFi clients access the LAN and the route their traffic takes.
- Router: for small networks directly connected to the router's switches, you can consider an upgrade, if they only support 1 Gbps. Regarding multi-gigabits, the maximum data supported by switches, PoE and routers is variable: 2.5 Gbps., 5 Gbps., and 10 Gbps. Although 2.5 Gbps. or 5 Gbps. are sufficient for WiFi 6, for future needs, wired and wireless side, it is better to opt for 10 Gbps. Regarding cabling, Cat6a, Cat7 and Cat7a all support the same maximum data rate of 10 Gbps. the bandwidth of newer cabling being higher than that of previous cabling.
Place the access points
Before deploying WiFi and access points, a site survey is essential.
Wireless or radio frequency mapping can help identify the best locations to install access points and benefit from the best coverage, best roaming and best performance. If the range and coverage of WiFi 6 can be similar to that of the old standards, differences in terms of density are nevertheless likely to affect the location and configuration. If you do not have a lot of WiFi experience, it is better to entrust this work to a competent person. Trying to guess the correct location of access points, especially for large networks, is a source of errors that can be expensive. Methods and tools, such as analyzers and thermal mapping software, can be of great help in designing WiFi networks.
Entrusting this task to a professional can save time, money and headaches.
Choosing WiFi 6 clients
WiFi 6 access pointsare backward compatible with the old WiFi client standards (802.11a / b / g / g / n / ac), you will not be able to take advantage of all the speed improvements WiFi 6 without using a WiFi 6 client. Currently, few client devices support WiFi 6. This is the case for mobiles such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Apple iPhone 11, and some laptops and desktops more recent.
Before embarking on a network deployment, it is better to wait for the arrival of client devices supporting WiFi 6. But if you have a particular network or devices that need a very high speed, you can consider an upgrade faster. Regarding desktop computers, there are PCIe adapter cards on the market, but no USB adapter yet. Today, to upgrade laptops, you will probably need to buy an M.2 / NGFF WiFi 6 adapter, if the portable machine has a compatible WiFi card slot.
The Wi-Fi Alliance Product Finder list lets you know which products currently support WiFi 6.
Check the availability of the features you need As was the case with 802.11ac WiFi, 802.11ax will be adopted by steps. It is likely that the first devices will only be able to send and receive 4 simultaneous space streams, and up to 8 later.
For the moment, the AP-to-client downlink only offers multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). But, similarly, support for the client-to-PA uplink will likely be added later. On the other hand, the new function of multiplexing and coding of OFDMA data (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) will be available immediately in uplink and downlink, which will allow several customers with different bandwidth needs to connect to the same access point at the same time.
Should we choose WiFi 6 now?