At first blush, it might be difficult to grasp why CEOs would get excited about WiFi 6. The futuristic, 5G-like connect-everything-to-everything-else vision behind the new wireless networking standard may sound empowering for some segments, like in congested public spaces or the connected home. But for the carpeted enterprise, where demand for email, file access, collaboration and other mundane workloads already is fairly well-served by existing offerings, the pitch may not be compelling.
Don’t turn away just yet, though. Because while WiFi 6 won’t have much impact on what connected workers do on their devices, the emerging wireless standard affords enterprise architects a rare opportunity to dramatically overhaul their networks. To serve, you know, their decidedly pedestrian demands.
Specifically, WiFi 6 is poised to benefit the enterprise in three ways:
1. Far fewer access points
Thanks to the addition of OFDMA, which introduces a scheduling scheme that dramatically boosts the number of wireless clients the network can handle, and MU-MIMO, which tackles high-throughput traffic from the most demanding devices, a single WiFi 6 access point can serve hundreds of clients at once.
In fact, Qualcomm, which unveiled its WiFi 6 AP and client platforms at an event here last week, said its AP chipset maxes out both OFDMA and MU-MIMO specs, which means a single Qualcomm-based WiFi 6 AP could can manage up to 1,500 clients at once.
2. An all-wireless office
The onslaught of WiFi has put Ethernet connectivity on the ropes in the modern office. But though Ethernet may be down, it is not out. At least, not yet. WiFi 6 could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The same two features that enable more clients to coexist – that is, OFDMA and MU-MIMO – also help extend high-throughput connectivity to the network perimeter. And another new feature, called BSS coloring, helps at the edge by blocking out interference from competing networks in densely populated environments.
3. Phone-free office
That’s desktop phones, not smartphones. Voice on today’s networks is terribly inefficient, because applications have to wait their turn before they can send and receive packets. WiFi 6 can send and receive multiple transfers simultaneously. That’s ideal for voice, video and other real-time applications. So everything from conferencing apps like Skype and Zoom to smart-speaker systems built around Amazon’s Alexa and Google Voice – can operate across the network, seemingly latency-free.
OFDMA also enables variable packet sizes, which means voice can be distributed economically, without weighing down the network.
All this means WiFi 6 obviates the need for VoIP systems with stationary desk phones. So IT can replace them with virtual systems that run on employees’ smartphones. In addition to cutting costs, that can make the system far more useful, because workers would effectively carry their assigned phones wherever they go.
By now, it should be clear that WiFi 6 won’t be enabling any revolutionary new applications in the office. Because the carpeted enterprise places very pedestrian demands on the network. So it’s not stressing the network now.
That said, WiFi 6 does put groundbreaking new tools into the hands of IT to help serve more reliably and economically. Don’t miss this opportunity to deliver the ordinary – extraordinarily.