Most marketers are guilty at one point or another of hyping up a minor improvement as if it were a major innovation. Think of the relatively unimportant year-over-year changes made to mature household products: it’s unlikely that that new lawnmower you bought a few days ago is really as game-changing as the manufacturer wants you to believe, at least when compared to last year’s model.
The technology industry is by no means innocent in this regard — plenty of tech products are heralded as revolutionary upon release, even if their improvements are more iterative than transformational. Every so often, however, the tech world gives birth to a game-changing invention that moves the goalposts and results in rapid adoption.
For these types of generation-defining technological changes to happen, a whole host of forces needs to move. In the music industry, for example, the shift from digital downloads to streaming occurred quickly thanks to the rapid proliferation of smartphones, the availability of fast cellular data, and the decoupling of individual tracks from albums that services like iTunes had enabled in the early 2000s.
The creation of the newest generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, represents a similarly meaningful shift. Consumers are adopting network-connected devices faster than ever before; wireless vendors (including Cisco Meraki) are introducing Wi-Fi 6 enabled networking devices at breakneck speed; and a brand new cellular standard, 5G, is already making waves in the world of wireless. In other words, the whole ecosystem is moving in lockstep toward a faster, better wireless future.
If past patterns are any indication, Wi-Fi 6 will have a major impact on the entire industry and see quicker adoption than any previous Wi-Fi generation. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Wi-Fi 6: built on a set of proven, foundational technologies
While Wi-Fi 6 introduces a new collection of breakthrough technologies, like BSS Coloring and Target Wake Time (TWT), it is based on a number of foundational, trusted technologies that have been enhanced instead of being rebuilt from the ground up. For example:
Wi-Fi 6 makes the jump from 256 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) to 1024 QAM. The higher the number, the greater number of packets that can be sent efficiently. This increase means up to a 2.5x increase in throughput and a 25% increase in spectral efficiency.
Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), a technology introduced with Wi-Fi 5, allows APs to send and receive packets to and from multiple clients simultaneously. Combined with 8×8 support, this will result in significantly faster speeds in different directions.
OFDMA, which replaces the older OFDM, significantly reduces overhead and latency, especially when a multitude of clients are connecting to the network. OFDMA is based on trusted technology from LTE.
What’s the upshot here? Though Wi-Fi 6 will be a revolution in wireless, it’s also in many ways an evolution of existing technologies. The rollout of Wi-Fi 6 networking hardware and devices alike should be relatively smooth, so consumers will be able to start using Wi-Fi 6 quickly.
2. More devices — and more demands — than ever
There’s a good reason the Wi-Fi Alliance sat down way back in 2013 and started hashing out its plans for Wi-Fi 6. Since the mid-2000s, there has been an absolute explosion of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and this trend shows no signs of waning: four billion Wi-Fi equipped devices will ship in 2019, and by the end of this year, the 30 billionth Wi-Fi device will have shipped — that’s three times the cumulative number (10 billion) reached in 2014! And all of these devices, of course, rely on consistent connectivity to function. For that reason alone, Wi-Fi 6, with its focus on high density coverage, is long overdue.
But Wi-Fi 6 offers even more than this.
First, it’s a much more power-efficient standard, because thanks to a feature known as Target Wake Time (TWT), devices will check for new data packets on a schedule rather than constantly pinging the network. This feature can help devices like phones, IoT devices, and applications achieve up to 67% lower power consumption.
Second, we’re on the verge of some incredible new technologies that will only reach their potential if there’s a Wi-Fi standard robust enough to match. Think IoT (plus its cousin, IIoT), augmented & virtual reality, and factories laden with smart sensors to make operations more efficient. The performance of these futuristic tools and applications is dependent on fast wireless speeds, since long latency times can completely ruin the experience. Wi-Fi 6’s speed increases are therefore instrumental in unlocking these new services.
3. The long-term consequences of Wi-Fi 6 + 5G are immense
There’s another wireless standard brewing that the entire industry can’t wait for: 5G. While cellular data in some form has been available for over two decades (remember GPRS?), it really grew in importance once smartphones exploded onto the scene in the late 2000s and cellular made its way into other devices, like tablets and mobile hotspots.
So what does 5G have to do with Wi-Fi 6, and what’s so special about it?
5G and Wi-Fi 6 are actually closely intertwined. They’re built on the same technical foundation, and as a result, they both bring significant performance improvements. As evidence of the close linkage between 5G and Wi-Fi 6, a Cisco technology calledOpenRoaming will allow consumers to roam seamlessly between 802.11ax and 5G networks without having to deal with service interruptions.
But both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are about much more than speed — they represent a fundamental transformation in what’s possible with connected devices, whether they’re large automotive vehicles (like self-driving cars) or small IoT devices (like smart speakers). While 5G will reign supreme in most outdoor scenarios, Wi-Fi 6 will take precedence inside buildings and with devices that don’t move around too often. Also important to note is the fact that Wi-Fi 6 adoption will outpace the adoption of 5G by a wide margin for years, according to ABI Research.
At the end of the day, the combination of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G’s strengths will completely transform our wireless world, no matter where users or their devices are.
The hype around Wi-Fi 6 has reached a fever pitch, and for good reason: manufacturers and consumers alike will quickly adopt the latest Wi-Fi standard in droves. At Cisco Meraki, we couldn’t be more bullish on Wi-Fi 6, and we’re incredibly excited for what the future of wireless will bring.
Check out our recently introduced Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs and the latest Wi-Fi 6 content, including other blog posts and customer webinars.
In case you haven’t already heard, the next generation of wireless is upon us. Wi-Fi 6 promises higher throughputs, substantially better performance in high density environments, and energy savings for connected clients. It’s an exciting time for the entire tech industry, and consumers will soon begin to realize the benefits that this new wireless standard brings, especially when using their devices in congested environments.
The billion dollar question for IT admins remains: when will consumers start using Wi-Fi 6 client devices in earnest? Here’s some information that should help you decide on a timeframe for deploying new Wi-Fi 6 compatible networking hardware, whether you’ve already set aside budget for a network refresh or you’re still considering whether Wi-Fi 6 is worth all the hype.
When will the Wi-Fi 6 spec be officially finalized?
The development of a new wireless standard can take years, and that’s certainly been the case with Wi-Fi 6, whose feature set has been incubating since 2013. Just as with previous standards like 802.11n and 802.11ac, the Wi-Fi Alliance has released a draft spec that hardware makers are basing their new devices on, ahead of the release of the final spec. It’s entirely possible that the Wi-Fi 6 spec won’t be finalized until the last few months of 2019 or even early 2020, and this final version could include additional improvements in terms of performance or energy savings.
That said, there’s no reason to hold off on buying hardware built on the draft Wi-Fi 6 spec. The Wi-Fi Alliance only releases a draft spec once it is committed to no longer making any major changes. Over the next few months, Wi-Fi 6 vendors will understand the mandatory and optional features for the WFA Certification, which will drive future product strategy. However, those who upgrade now will be happy to know that Cisco Wi-Fi 6 compatible hardware has been thoroughly tested with Samsung and Intel Wi-Fi 6 clients.
When will Wi-Fi 6 devices start to hit the market in meaningful numbers?
Wi-Fi 6 compatible access points and switches are coming fast and furious. Almost every major networking vendor, including Cisco Meraki, has announced or is already shipping Wi-Fi 6 compatible hardware. On the other hand, Wi-Fi 6 client devices are still few and far between as of May 2019.
This will all change quickly, though. Wi-Fi 6 devices are expected to be more than half of the devices sold in 2020. Qualcomm, which supplies modems and chipsets for most of the smartphone industry, recently unveiled the Snapdragon 855, which includes support for Wi-Fi 6 and will be included in most Android flagships that debut this year. Other smartphone, computer, and tablet makers across the industry, like Apple, will also undoubtedly unveil support for Wi-Fi 6 soon.
In short: Wi-Fi 6 networking hardware is available from almost every networking vendor today, and by the end of 2019, most new flagship devices should come with the newest generation of Wi-Fi.
When is the best time to invest in new Wi-Fi 6 compatible networking equipment?
Every new Wi-Fi standard comes with a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: network admins don’t want to be caught flat-footed with outdated networks once newer client devices start appearing everywhere, but these same admins also don’t want to rush to deploy new networking hardware if Wi-Fi 6 client devices won’t appear for a while. The latter scenario is especially relevant if a network refresh comes at the cost of other, more higher priority initiatives. The way to proceed is a bit nuanced, depending on the kind of network environment you’re managing.
If the network you manage supports high density use cases — say, if your users are using Wi-Fi in a crowded office environment, stadium, dining hall, or park — try to prioritize a Wi-Fi 6 deployment. This is doubly true if users are complaining about slow and/or unreliable performance. Even though most users today don’t have Wi-Fi 6 client devices, they will still enjoy some improvements in upstream and downstream throughputs and reliability thanks to the new 8×8 radio architecture of new Wi-Fi 6 APs. Once Wi-Fi 6 client devices start appearing everywhere, the full benefits of Wi-Fi 6 will become immediately apparent: much improved reliability, faster speeds, and improved battery life.
Some IT admins don’t need to worry about high density use cases or may have just undergone a network refresh under the Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac Wave 2) spec. If this is the case for you, it might make sense to wait to deploy Wi-Fi 6 compatible networking equipment until Wi-Fi 6 client devices hit a critical mass. Note that the new Wi-Fi 6 standard is fully backwards-compatible: Wi-Fi 6 client devices will be fully compatible with APs equipped with 802.11ac (or older), and older client devices will still work perfectly fine with Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs.
Wait, what about 5G? Shouldn’t I wait to see how that plays out?
Indeed, Wi-Fi 6 isn’t the only cool new standard hitting the airwaves (pun intended). The other new kid on the block is 5G, a new generation of cellular connectivity that promises dramatically better performance over the current standard, 4G LTE.
Some industry watchers have claimed that 5G means the end of Wi-Fi. After all, they say, now that cellular networks can be as fast as Wi-Fi networks, who needs Wi-Fi?
But the data caps and performance penalties that affect 4G LTE today will likely come with 5G as well. It’s unlikely that an office worker will rely exclusively on 5G bandwidth to get work done for 9 hours a day (or that her office manager will want to pay for it). Additionally, 5G radio frequencies delivering the greatest performance improvements won’t be able to penetrate far indoors and cover those environments as well as Wi-Fi can; it’s no wonder that 5G networks will actually offload more traffic to Wi-Fi networks than LTE networks do today because of the coming influx of more data-hungry devices and applications.
Wi-Fi will continue to have many advantages from a cost standpoint and is superior for most indoor use cases. As a result, IT teams will continue to deploy the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi technology going into the future.
The introduction of Wi-Fi 6 is a watershed moment for the tech world, and as digital technology has become more and more ingrained in consumers’ everyday lives, Wi-Fi 6 will change how we all work, play, and interact with one another. Hopefully you now have a better sense for when the right time is to invest in the next generation of wireless.
To learn more about Wi-Fi 6, check out our white paper and watch the launch webinar for the Meraki MR45 and MR55, our newest APs that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. And be sure to chime in on the Meraki Community with your thoughts on Wi-Fi 6!
Cisco Live comes to America! Cisco’s largest event is going to be held in San Diego from June 9-13, 2019. Expecting close to 30,000 attendees, the San Diego convention centre will have a stellar lineup of events covering blockchain, AI/ML in the cloud, 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and so much more.
While Cisco Live presents an exciting opportunity to meet our product team and explore our brand new launches, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take full advantage of the breakout sessions featuring our entire product line, APIs and other integrations. All of our sessions help you derive additional value from your Meraki network through intelligent data gathering and increasing operational efficiency. Our hands-on lab sessions will help you experience and deploy a host of Meraki solutions from scratch.
Register for the session on Meraki APIs and learn how you can build programmable cloud networking tools to thoughtfully address your changing customer needs. Interested in how cameras can be used for more than just security? Our session on MV smart cameras highlights how they act as sensors by transforming video data into actionable information.
Learn how to make your network management simpler and more intuitive by registering for our session on Intent-Based Networks (IBN). Be sure to register for our deep dive into Meraki-powered SD-WAN and find out why Meraki MR + Cisco Umbrella is a match made in heaven for wireless threat protection. Do you have a network with both on-cloud and on-prem solutions? Learn how to automate and deploy these securely in our session on hybrid networks.