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What to Expect When Expecting 802.11ax


November 6, 2018 - 0 Comments

For Network Admins, it’s sort of like waiting for your favorite blockbuster to hit the local cinema. You’ve read a few spoilers, you’ve watched all of the previews, now you’re pumped for the movie. Only the movie hasn’t been released. As Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

At Cisco, we have our ears to the ground and expect first 802.11ax devices to become available prior to standard ratification by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE is the standards body that defines what the new 802.11ax standard is and what are the different features introduced by 802.11ax. This is similar market behavior when IEEE introduced the prior generations standards, 802.11ac and 802.11n.

Without clients and devices available, a standard doesn’t mean much. 802.11ax benefits are directly dependent on 11ax clients but most new 11ax features require compatible devices in order for it’s benefits to be realized. The bottom line is until Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11ax clients reach critical mass, the benefits of 11ax are minimal and will have low impact.

Client mix in a given network has multiple influencing factors, not just availability of new standard. For example, visitor/guest-oriented networks like education, retail, hospitality, venues, stadiums will likely see 802.11ax devices as soon as major consumer brands start shipping compatible smartphones/tablets. An enterprise network will have dependencies on internal policies like Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) and laptop refresh cycles. BYOD policy will favor a faster device upgrade cycle, following the typical consumer cycle of 2 years.

Since lists are easier to read, here are a few timelines lists that we were able to cobble together into one big list:

Initial 802.11ax APs released in November and December of 2018 will be entry or mid-range products and will be pre-standard; meaning that these Access Points will not support the key features of 802.11ax

  • Devices are expected to appear starting around the second half of 2019, both for smartphones/tablets as well for laptops.
  • For practical purposes, 802.11ax standard is finalized and all major features are closed. Only some minor features are under discussion to either be dropped or moved to a potential “wave 2”.
  • WFA certification program for Wi-Fi 6 is projected to be finalized in the Fall of 2019
  • Ratification and publication of 802.11ax, currently at draft 3.1, is estimated by IEEE to occur in Dec 2019
  • However, inflection point (most of shipping devices to be Wi-Fi 6 compatible) is not expected until 2020

Remember, 802.11ax access points that are released now come with warnings: they may only have a partial implementation of 802.11ax standard and not all of them could be upgraded to be certified by WFA. For example, a key differentiating feature for 11ax is OFDMA which is mandatory for both downlink and uplink. To read more, check out our latest 802.11ax White Paper here.

As with most blockbusters, there are a lot of moving parts that need to fit into place before you can see the next installment of your favorite movie franchise and that is also true of Wi-Fi standards. But like the latest flick, these standards will be released. Cisco will have the information you need every step of the way, so make sure you bookmark this blog page and check back here and our 802.11ax web page.

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