Wi-Fi Alliance certification program for Wi-Fi 6 coming in Q3

LAS VEGAS—With so much talk about Wi-Fi 6 expected at CES 2019, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to announce that its Wi-Fi Certified 6 program will be coming online in the third quarter of 2019.

That’s along the same time frame as the alliance had been expecting—and it’s a rather ambitious one at that. Kevin Robinson, director of marketing at Wi-Fi Alliance, said the sheer number of new features supported in Wi-Fi 6 makes for a challenging situation in terms of getting everyone on the same interoperability page.

“As we start getting into a lot of the things that are in Wi-Fi 6, there is a lot of new innovation in this. There’s just a lot of work to do to ensure it’s interoperable across many vendors,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

More advanced versions of multi-user (MU) MIMO are used in Wi-Fi 6, which allows more data to be transferred at once. The analogy with MU-MIMO is it adds more “trucks” to the fleet and allows the network to dispatch the trucks to different locations; before it might have been a single truck in the fleet that was only partially loaded.

Put another way, MU-MIMO with Wi-Fi 5 was akin to having four trucks in the fleet, and they could move data in parallel to multiple clients at a time. With Wi-Fi 6, “we’re essentially doubling the number of trucks"; there could be eight trucks in the fleet and they correlate to a spatial stream, so more data paths can be simultaneously added to clients. “What this ultimately does is it increases the overall throughput of the network,” to where it’s approaching 10 Gbps with Wi-Fi 6, he said. 

OFDMA has been a popular technique in cellular, and now it’s making its way into Wi-Fi with version 6. OFDMA allows for more efficient use of the space and capacity that the “truck” provides, and it allows for addressing latency-sensitive applications. It’s particularly key in voice traffic, which is more sensitive to latency, he said.

Wi-Fi 6 enhances performance at both 2.4 and 5 GHz, and it will also improve power efficiency. As for other spectrum bands, like the 6 GHz band that the FCC is considering opening for more unlicensed uses, there’s still a lot unknown about the regulatory framework. Yet the industry expects that Wi-Fi 6 should be easily adapted to work in the 6 GHz band, and the IEEE is already working on extensions based on what is known, according to Robinson.

Other features of Wi-Fi 6 include transmit beamforming, 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode and target wake time, the latter of which will significantly improve battery life in Wi-Fi devices, including for internet of things.

There’s no shortage of industry momentum around Wi-Fi 6, which is the name the alliance adopted to simplify the numbering scheme for the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi 6 identifies technology running on 802.11ax, while Wi-Fi 5 denotes devices that support 082.11ac and Wi-Fi 4 correlates to devices running 802.11n.

Recent polling data indicate more than half of users want the latest technology in their devices, but nearly three-quarters of respondents avoid buying devices when it’s too difficult to understand technical labels and descriptions, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. The new naming structure should go a long way toward rectifying that.

ABI is projecting Wi-Fi 6 chipsets will surpass the 1 billion threshold by 2022, and IDC predicts that by mid-2019, the industry will start to see the bulk of early stage Wi-Fi 6 rollouts, with more coming at the end of the year going into 2020. Of course, once the certification program kicks in, that will ensure devices meet interoperability and security standards and the industry will start to see even more acceleration.

Just last week, ARRIS announced a new Wi-Fi 6 mesh system that promises gigabit speeds to every device in every room. Dubbed the SURFboard mAX Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System, the product features tri-band, Wi-Fi 6, 4x4 and mesh.

ARRIS said that while today's mesh systems commonly use dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) technology, it designed the SURFboard mAX Pro System around tri-band to leverage additional frequency bands for more throughput with less interference.

In a mesh system with more then one unit, the two bands dedicated for client connections run in 2.4 GHz and low-band 5 GHz, while the dedicated third band for connection between the mesh nodes runs in high-band 5 GHz. In a single unit setup, all three bands are enabled for client connections. In either scenario, steering is enabled for the client connections, i.e., mAX Pro automatically connects the client to the fastest band available, according to Jonathan Wu, vice president of product management at ARRIS, in response to an inquiry by FierceWirelessTech.

The addition of a third 5 GHz band not only supports a dedicated connection between the two routers in the system, it also enables more connected devices in a single router configuration.