This content is part of the Essential Guide: An 802.11ax survival guide: Expectations for the Wi-Fi standard
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Which 802.11ax features support IoT adoption?

A handful of key 802.11ax features could help accelerate widespread internet-of-things adoption, according to networking experts familiar with the new standard.

The new Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, wireless LAN standard -- currently pending ratification at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers -- could help drive widespread internet-of-things adoption. Several key 802.11ax features promise to support the proliferation of IoT clients throughout the enterprise, from smart security systems to agricultural sensors.

Here are three important 802.11ax features that experts predict will change the game for IoT:

1. Dual-band. Unlike Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac -- which operated only in 5 GHz wireless frequencies -- Wi-Fi 6 will operate in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, offering more available channels and increasing the likelihood a device can successfully connect to an access point (AP) at any given moment. It also increases Wi-Fi coverage, as 2.4 GHz boasts greater range than 5 GHz, although at slower speeds.

Critics of 2.4 GHz point to issues with crowding and interference, as a number of ubiquitous devices -- such as microwaves -- use the same radio frequency. The 802.11ac standard abandoned 2.4 GHz entirely for 5 GHz, with its better capacity and faster throughput.

But many analysts say it makes sense to relegate IoT devices -- which often need to send small amounts of data over a greater distance, rather than large amounts of data quickly -- to 2.4 GHz, freeing up the 5 GHz frequency for clients with greater bandwidth requirements.

2. Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access. Arguably the most eagerly anticipated of all the 11ax features, orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) divides a single AP channel into smaller resource units to allow communication with multiple clients at the same time, in both uplink and downlink transmissions. OFDMA -- a multiuser variant of OFDM -- aims to increase network capacity and enable better, more efficient connectivity in high-density environments, including those with an abundance of IoT clients. Experts expect OFDMA will prove particularly effective in facilitating the transmission of small packets, such as those often generated by IoT devices.

3. Target Wake Time. TWT allows an AP to put a client to sleep for a specified length of time, after which the client wakes up and reconnects to the wireless LAN (WLAN). Many IoT devices have highly predictable and relatively limited transmission needs. A smart thermostat, for example, might need to report climate data to the cloud just once daily. With TWT, an AP can schedule that transmission to occur during a low-traffic period -- outside of business hours, for example -- both minimizing network congestion and conserving client battery life. By minimizing the impact on WLAN performance, TWT could make IoT adoption more attractive in the long run.

This was last published in March 2019

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