Researchers are busily working on 802.11ax, a follow-on technology for 802.11ac Wi-Fi that uses MIMO-OFDA signaling to deliver faster, even gigabit-speed, connections to individual devices rather than simply improving overall network capacity. But 802.11ax will not hit the shelves for a few years, given that 2019 is the target date for a ratified 802.11ax standard.
The board of IEEE officially approved the 802.11ax task group in March, and operators, chip vendors, OEMs and universities are wholeheartedly pursuing the effort, with a primary goal being a four-fold improvement in data speed to devices used in dense deployment scenarios.
At the Johannesberg Summit, held during May in South Africa, Stephen Rayment, Ericsson's (NASDAQ: ERIC) head of technology for Wi-Fi products (and former CTO of Belair Networks, which Ericsson acquired), said 802.11ax will also maintain or improve power efficiency plus maintain backward compatibility and coexistence. Outdoor operation will be limited to stationary and pedestrian speeds.
Though the focus for 802.11ax deployment is the existing 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz unlicensed bands, additional bands between 1 GHz and 6 GHz may be added as they become available.
The 802.11ax standard should be complete in July 2018. However, ratification of the standard is not expected before March 2019, Greg Ennis, the Wi-Fi Alliance's vice president of technology, told PCWorld. Nonetheless, Ennis predicts that products based on a draft of the standard will likely reach the market as early as 2016, as happened with draft 802.11n and draft 802.11ac products as well.
A key change in 802.11ax will be the use of MIMO-OFDA, which combines multiple antennas (the MIMO, multiple in-multiple out, part) with orthogonal frequency division multiple access (which is abbreviated OFDMA or OFDA). OFDA is based on existing OFDM schemes, which encode data on multiple subcarrier frequencies. OFDM is already used in LTE and earlier Wi-Fi standards. But OFDA adds a new twist, the multiple-access component, meaning subsets are assigned within those subcarrier frequencies to essentially create a bigger pipe delivering data to individual devices.
Huawei's Osama Aboul Magd is chairing the IEEE 802.11ax WLAN standard task group, and the Chinese vendor has already staked out an 802.11ax beachhead, saying recently it achieved 10.53 Gbps data speed using Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band during lab trials. Of course, that speed would not necessarily be delivered to an individual smartphone or tablet, but it does set the stage for possible gigabit speeds direct to devices.
While work is just getting started on 802.11ax, other new Wi-Fi certifications and standards should be arriving sooner rather than later.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies Wi-Fi products that have shown proven interoperability and industry-standard security protections, expects to initiate its certification program for 802.11ad WiGig products next year.
Meanwhile, IEEE expects to wrap up standardization work on the 900 MHz 802.11ah standard in January 2016. 802.11ah will compete with other technologies for in-building and home automation such as Zigbee and Z-Wave and could become a crucial piece in the Internet of Things jigsaw puzzle.
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