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This content is part of the Essential Guide: An 802.11ax survival guide: Expectations for the Wi-Fi standard
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Should you buy 802.11ax devices before the Wi-Fi standard is ratified?

The Wi-Fi 6 standard has not been ratified yet, but enterprises are faced with a decision. Should they buy 802.11ax devices now or wait for the standard to be approved?

As we get closer to the ratification of 802.11ax, slated for next year, the fervor around the latest wireless LAN standard is hitting full stride. There's a lot to get excited about, but there's also a lot of potential confusion about early 802.11ax devices.

For instance, what is safe to buy prestandard and when are you better off waiting for the technology to mature a bit? As with all things wireless-related, the answer is a firm, "it depends."

If you're contemplating upgrading at home or for a small business, the notion of whether to buy prestandard 802.11ax devices is fairly simple. A quick search on Amazon shows dozens of consumer-grade 802.11ax routers, and if you're not well-versed in the finer points of wireless, you can simply let your budget and the reviews of any one product be your guide.

But be mindful that upgrading your wireless router isn't the whole story. Any gadget you might have that isn't 802.11ax-compatible will be a limiting factor -- as is your internet service provider connection -- but your overall Wi-Fi quality should still be much better.

While most vendors at all market levels will stand behind their prestandard gear as being fully supported once the 802.11ax standard is approved, it's important you confirm that intention if you are buying a lot of gear or purchasing anything you expect to keep for years.

In bigger operations, move cautiously

In the enterprise, the decision to bring pre-ratification 802.11ax devices into your infrastructure is a lot more complicated. It's also different for each environment, and the verdict on what to do requires detailed scrutiny to offset the heavy marketing that vendors pump out in the hopes of triggering massive early adoption.

Enterprises, for example, might wrestle with the following concerns: budget, lifecycle refreshes, tolerance for bleeding-edge code, switching concerns involving mGig and Power over Ethernet, and the move by one vendor to license every piece of hardware and feature to boost its revenue -- and your total cost of ownership, unfortunately.

We'll all get to the new standard eventually, but not at the same time, as each organization tries to figure out when it makes sense to jump in on 802.11ax.

It's also important to remember the network is only half the equation when evaluating the anticipated benefits of 802.11ax devices. If you don't expect to have many .11ax devices in your particular environment any time soon and if you have a recent 802.11ac wireless environment in place, it might be hard to justify an early and significant spend on the latest standard.

So when will .11ax clients hit the market? They already have -- sort of. We are starting to see a trickle of early client hardware announcements, including the Samsung S10 and a handful of chipsets that are now being teased in marketing campaigns but won't officially come out until later in the year. The 802.11ax device pipeline, however, is filling up.

This was last published in April 2019

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