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The Best of Wi-Fi 6 – OFDMA

New Wi-Fi 6 hardware is making it into the market and the hands of consumers. Enterprises need to keep up with the demand and requests for Wi-Fi 6.

But will all the new Wi-Fi 6 features provide significant gains? There is only one exciting feature worth keeping an eye on, and that is OFDMA, or Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access.

In previous Wi-Fi generations, wireless communications were using a modulation scheme called OFDM, or Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing. A serialized way for devices to transmit and receive data wirelessly.

The difference is that OFDMA can send multiple transmissions from multiple devices over the same frequency, achieved through subcarriers. It will provide efficiency over Wi-Fi, which would increase speed and improve latency.

Hardware Support

With Wi-Fi 6 not yet ratified as a standard, what can we expect from the hardware vendors? Major vendors such as Cisco, Aruba, Aerohive, and Mist have been selling Wi-Fi 6 supported access points.

But the details are in the chipset. Vendors purchase Wi-Fi 6 chipsets from a few major manufacturers such as Broadcom and Qualcomm. The release of Wi-Fi 6 features, such as OFDMA, is dependent on the version of SDKs to the major vendors.

There’s a high probability that an access point supports Wi-Fi 6 but may not have Wi-Fi 6 features implemented yet. Software updates will unlock these features for devices to use.

Table 1.1 – Wi-Fi 6 capable access points

Brand2×24×48×8
ArubaAP-514
AP-515
AP-530 Series
AP-555
CiscoC9115
C9120
C9117
C9130
EngeniusECW220
EWS357
ECW230
EWS377
Extreme NetworksAP305AP505
AP510
AP560
MerakiMR45MR55
Mist (Juniper)AP43
Mojo Networks (Arista)C-250
RuckusR650
R750
R730
* Indicates Wi-Fi 6 Certified

Then there’s the support of Wi-Fi 6 from the laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. There are not many that support Wi-Fi 6 today. Laptops will require a chipset upgrade, available from Intel. Replacement of legacy hardware, such as tablets and IoT, is needed.

IoT will be the slowest to transition to Wi-Fi 6, infrequently upgraded, and limited in support.

How To Test OFDMA

How can you verify OFDMA is in use today? Vendors haven’t opened up the documentation to shed light on this topic. By default, OFDMA might not be enabled.

Wi-Fi experts do not have many options to verify this themselves with limited hardware testing devices available. There are no tools available to check OFDMA in action visually. Currently, it requires an in-depth expert analysis of the wireless frames using a capable machine.

Benefits on the horizon?

The question still stands, at which point will we start to see the benefits of Wi-Fi 6. There will be a long transition from Wi-Fi 5. A mix of legacy and next-gen Wi-Fi 6 devices will be operating together.

Once the infrastructure is upgraded to Wi-Fi 6 and more Wi-Fi 6 capable devices join the network, we will be able to see a shift. Once OFDMA is operational, we will see the efficiencies not just for Wi-Fi 6 devices but also for legacy ones. What the percentage between Wi-Fi 6 vs. others is yet to be known.

Will we need fewer access points when migrating to Wi-Fi 6? High density and capacity areas may need fewer access points if the efficiencies are real. But this does not change coverage. A Wi-Fi design will be required to identify the number of access points needed and their locations based on a set of network and user requirements.

Takeaway

Begin testing Wi-Fi 6 access points. Acquire Wi-Fi 6 devices and check them with your current devices. A well-planned test with a small subset of users is ideal before a mass rollout.

Transitioning to Wi-Fi 6?

Do you have questions about transitioning to Wi-Fi 6? We can help. Contact us today.

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