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When will enterprises adopt the new Wi-Fi 6 standard?

Networking vendors have unveiled Wi-Fi 6 devices, yet the wireless standard is not ratified. Don't expect Wi-Fi 6 to flow into the mainstream anytime soon.

The new wireless standard, Wi-Fi 6, is here -- but it's not. Like most emerging technologies, the Wi-Fi 6 standard has been hyped, but true enterprise adoption could take years. In fact, according to a recent IDC report, Wi-Fi 6 won't be considered mainstream until 2023.

Although that time frame seems far off, enterprises might want to plan for the new standard now and educate themselves on Wi-Fi 6 features, IDC analyst Brandon Butler said. The Wi-Fi 6 standard -- more technically known as 802.11ax -- is the next and natural evolution of wireless technology.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has not yet ratified Wi-Fi 6. The organization recently told TechTarget the official release date of the new standard probably won't happen until the middle of 2020, or even later.

Although the standard has not been officially ratified, networking vendors have already started to introduce Wi-Fi 6 products. Broadcom, Intel, Qualcomm and others are making pre-standard Wi-Fi 6 chipsets. Other vendors -- including Aerohive Networks, Aruba Networks and Huawei -- have debuted draft enterprise-grade access points (APs).

By the middle of 2019, Butler said, expect to see even more Wi-Fi 6 products, such as APs, hitting the market. In the second half of 2019, IDC expects enterprises to start adopting those products. Next year, in 2020, expect to see enterprise adoption ramp up even more.

Dense Wi-Fi environments get added boost

Brandon ButlerBrandon Butler

Enterprise adoption of the latest Wi-Fi standards takes time, Butler said. Previous iterations of Wi-Fi standards have also seen slow adoption. Normally, Wi-Fi standards take two to three years to really hit the market and become the de facto standard.

For example, 802.11ac Wave 2 really just became the standard in the market within the last year, Butler said. Just last year, IDC saw many Wave 1 deployments in the market, even though that standard had been released several years ago.

Early adopters of Wi-Fi 6 will include dense wireless environments, such as large public venues, stadiums and auditoriums, according to IDC. The first vertical markets to adopt the new standard are expected to be higher education institutions, government, hospitality and healthcare.

Wi-Fi 6 will add support for uplink multiuser, multiple input, multiple output, which should help in dense Wi-Fi environments, Butler said. These types of advancements in the new wireless standard should help manage traffic connections to large numbers of clients simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 APs will be able to talk with multiple users at once for both downlink and uplink traffic, which will serve a better capacity for dense environments.

Planning for the future

Wi-Fi 6 is also expected to offer faster throughput than previous standards and easier management. Another key element in the new Wi-Fi 6 standard is its support for IoT use cases. A remote device, for instance, could automatically turn on to check in with a home base at a certain interval of time.

"If enterprises are thinking about their next wave of Wi-Fi investments," Butler said, "they should consider whether they'd be interested in Wi-Fi 6 or if they're OK with the previous-generation Wi-Fi standard, where they can maybe save a little bit of money."

Even though networking vendors have introduced some Wi-Fi 6 devices, most mobile phones could not use Wi-Fi 6, Butler said. The newly unveiled Samsung Galaxy S10 phones can use Wi-Fi 6, but previous Samsung versions and iPhones cannot.

Currently, if you invest in Wi-Fi 6, you probably won't have mobile users who could take advantage of the new standard. But, Butler said, if you're planning your Wi-Fi environment for the next three to five years, you might want to think about standardizing on Wi-Fi 6 into the future.

This was last published in April 2019

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What reasons does your organization have for not adopting Wi-Fi 6?
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