Digital Communication


Digital Communication

802.11ax: Benefits and Operation of Wi-Fi 6


IEEE 802.11ax is a Wi-Fi standard on the market since 2019. It goes through short radio waves from 2.4 to 5Ghz in frequency. Many improvements allow it to be considered faster and safer than its predecessors.

What is IEEE 802.11ax?

802.11ax or IEEE 802.11ax is a standard for wireless networks, known in common parlance as Wi-Fi 6 or HEW (High Efficiency WLAN). Like its predecessor IEEE 802.11ac, the 802.11ax standard was established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Together they form the IEEE 802.11 family of Wi-Fi standards.

Although the development of the 802.11ax standard began in 2014, the first devices compatible with this standard only arrived on the market in 2019. The objectives of this new optimized technology are: better efficiency, higher throughput higher and greater resistance to interference. Unlike its direct predecessor, the IEEE 802.11ax standard again uses the 2.4 GHz band, in addition to the 5 GHz band.

How does the 802.11ax standard work?

Like its predecessors, 802.11ax is a Wi-Fi standard. Unlike an Ethernet connection, data transmission takes place wirelessly here. To do this, a Wi-Fi router receives data via an Internet connection or mobile network and transmits it via radio waves to all connected devices. One of the main features of the 802.11ax standard is the possible transmission speed: this is 9,608 megabits per second, so it is four times higher than the maximum speed of 802.11ac. However, the transmission speeds actually deployed depend on the number of antennas available around the router, the distance, the frequency bands as well as the width of the channel. The transmission speed is therefore generally lower than this value.

What are the benefits of the IEEE 802.11ax standard?

Even though the maximum speed of almost 10 gigabits per second is not generally achieved, the IEEE 802.11ax standard offers many advantages. Since the theoretical and practical transmission rate of its predecessors also almost always differs depending on conditions, the data rate of the 802.11ax standard on average four times higher is impressive. Additionally, using 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz offers more possibilities. Nevertheless, the 802.11ax standard is backwards compatible not only with its direct predecessor 802.11ac, but also with the 802.11a, b, g, and n standards. With the latest standard, terminals consume less power and are less susceptible to interference.

What are the differences between 802.11ax and 802.11ac?

If we compare the 802.11ax standard to its predecessor, we therefore notice several new features and optimizations. In addition to the choice between 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz and the four times higher data transmission speed, the following aspects are worth highlighting:

Multiple Access: Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)

An important innovation of the 802.11ax standard is the OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) data multiplexing and coding technique. The different channels of 20, 40, 80 and 160 MHz width can be divided into smaller subchannels. It is possible to have hundreds of subchannels. In combination with MU-MIMO (Multi User Multiple Input Multiple Output), data can be sent simultaneously to different clients distributed over different subchannels. This helps reduce latency and speed up data transmission.

Bidirectional data transmission: Multi-User-MIMO

MU-MIMO was indeed already theoretically possible with the 802.11ac standard, but only worked as a downlink, i.e. from the access point to the respective clients. Additionally, it was not possible to make multiple transmissions at the same time. With the 802.11ax standard, transmission is now in both directions. Using the uplink method, multiple clients can send data to the access point simultaneously.

Power saving: Target Wake Time (TWT)

The reduction in energy consumption mentioned above is largely achieved thanks to the TWT (Target Wake Time) technique. As part of the IEEE 802.11ax standard, this optimizes the individual sleep cycles of different battery-powered terminals. These can be put to sleep, then activated again, using TWT.

Frequency distribution: Spatial Frequency Reuse

With Spatial Frequency Reuse, several nearby Wi-Fi hosts can transmit on a single frequency. In many cases this would cause interference during transmission. However, if the signal strength is good enough and the signal-to-noise ratio is sufficient, transmission is still possible thanks to the 802.11ax standard. The radio network is thus fully exploited.

Performance improvement: new 6 GHz band

An extension of the IEEE 802.11ax standard provides for data transmission in the 6 GHz frequency band. This technique is called Wi-Fi 6E. It is used in Europe with the band from 5.9 GHz to 6.4 GHz. In the United States, Canada, Brazil and South Korea, it can reach 7.1 GHz. Wi-Fi 6E is intended for short distances and will probably be mainly used in professional environments in the future.

For which application areas is the IEEE 802.11ax standard intended?

The 802.11ax standard constitutes a real improvement, particularly for transmission of large amounts of data. This is noticeable, for example, when streaming high-resolution videos. The IEEE 802.11ax standard is also an asset for businesses that particularly need a secure and efficient Wi-Fi infrastructure. Additionally, this technology is used during large events or for live broadcasts, as many users need to access the network simultaneously. The 802.11ax standard then makes it possible to best avoid interference and delays.

Would you like to learn about other network standards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers? Then check out our Digital Guide articles to learn more about the IEEE 802.1X and IEEE 802.3af standards.

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