802.11ax WiFi: The Next Big Thing in WiFi Standards

Routers have evolved a ton since we started using multiple wireless devices in our homes. They’ve gone through changes to enhance connections to deliver the highest amount of throughput with as little noise as possible, providing stable Internet connections to the multitude of things that depend on this sort of thing. However, there has always been room for improvement when it came to these kinds of devices and what they are capable of delivering in real-world environments. This is where 802.11ax comes along. We want to cut through the hype and provide some details on how this changes the playing field, providing cold, hard facts about the technology that we could expect to see in routers as early as mid-2018.

Why 802.11ax Was Created


There comes a time in every standard’s life when you see its limitations, and they get so annoying that you decide to go back to the drawing board. In short, this is what made 802.11ax come into being.

Of course, the story is a little more complicated than that. Imagine a crowded place – an auditorium – with over a thousand people, each with their smartphones whipped out trying to upload pictures they just took of an event they’re participating in. In most cases there will be moments when many of these people will try doing this simultaneously, which congests the network. You will end up with a bunch of elbows pushing against each other trying to get a little bandwidth with the limited amount of radio space available to them.

802.11ac was created to help solve this problem in smaller situations (such as a lecture room or a dorm room with many occupants). However, the standard was not enough for massive stadiums and large auditoriums where perhaps over a hundred people will attempt to cruise the radio waves at the same time.

This is the “why” behind 802.11ax. But what about the “how?”

How the New Standard Makes Things Better


The 802.11ax standard capitalizes on an improvement in network technology brought about by the advent of LTE. By using something called “orthogonal frequency division multiple access” (ODMFA), it can broadcast to an enormous amount of users at the same time without losing throughput. It does this by dividing its frequency ranges into several small sub-channels, each capable of handling a handful of users.

This is an improvement over the multiuser multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) model used since 802.11ac was released. The standard allowed up to four clients to use one access point simultaneously, forcing stadiums and large venues to come up with convoluted ways of overcoming congestion, such as setting up an army of routers to handle all of the traffic.

802.11ax will allow for coverage over larger areas and more sensible network setups in crowded places.

It also allows for higher-bandwidth communication between devices and their routers. Under optimal conditions, a single 802.11ax stream will max out at 3.5 gigabits per second, which far surpasses the older standard’s top speed of 866 Mbps.

Do You Need an 802.11ax Router?

Unless you’re the kind of person who spends a lot of time (and cash) chasing the latest technologies just for the thrill, you’re probably asking yourself if you really need a router like this in your home or office.

The truth is that in most cases you’re better off just sticking to 802.11ac or whatever you have right now, as long as it’s working well and delivering as it should. This is especially true if you have a router capable of giving you the full throughput of your home’s Internet connection.

If you own a stadium, on the other hand, you might want to look into this technology.

Want to get a router with 802.11ax capability? Tell us why in a comment!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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