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How will BSS coloring boost Wi-Fi 6 performance?

BSS coloring is a feature that will help accelerate Wi-Fi 6 performance. Find out how the new mechanism will help access points transmit more efficiently.

The wireless networking industry officially made it to the certification of the 802.11ax standard, and the details of what lies under the hood of Wi-Fi 6 -- the other name for 802.11ax -- will continue to emerge. Those elements are pretty exciting to those of us in the business of professional wireless, and one feature that stands out in particular is basic service set coloring, or BSS coloring.

Aspects of 802.11ax will benefit wireless networks of any size -- from those encompassing a single access point (AP) to networks with thousands of them. Better radio technology, target wake time -- a way for devices to conserve power and to determine how frequently they wake up -- and orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) are just a few.

But BSS coloring is somewhat unique because it earns its keep in high-density environments where lots of APs make up a single wireless LAN. When combined with OFDMA, BSS coloring will make wireless networks even more efficient and improve Wi-Fi 6 performance.

How APs operated before the new standard

What BSS coloring does is add an identifier to each AP's transmitted information.

Prior to 802.11ax, APs operating in the same network and on the same channel -- especially in 2.4 GHz -- constantly bumped into each other's cells, thus degrading the efficiency of the wireless network. In order to eliminate that congestion, radio good neighbor mechanisms used algorithms that allowed only one competing cell to transmit at any given instant. A basic service set is the transmit reach of every individual AP that is part of the same network. Combined, they constitute an ESS, or extended service set.

But BSS coloring changes the rules.

Suffice it to say, we can't see colors associated with wireless in the air. What BSS coloring does is add an identifier to each AP's transmitted information. For example, let's say one AP transmitting on channel 6 AP hears another AP also on channel 6. With BSS coloring enabled, new algorithms compare this additional information to decide how the two APs can best continue to simultaneously serve clients. Again, it's an efficiency gain in Wi-Fi 6 performance that exploits new intra-AP magic to keep more frames in the air for more client devices.

This was last published in October 2019

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