Wi-Fi 6 and Mesh: New smart home technologies explained
by Patrick Kato
As the smart home grows, so do the needs for high quality Wi-Fi. Due to these increasing needs, new technologies are emerging, designed to improve Wi-Fi as we know it. But what are these new technologies, why do we need them and what do they do? Let’s take a closer look!
New Wi-Fi needs call for new technologies
When looking at various technologies that can be used to deliver better Wi-Fi to the end user, it is best to start off with the assumption that everyone has different needs. Each need has its unique set of challenges in terms of Wi-Fi quality. Larger multistory buildings are for example often built with walls that are difficult to penetrate by radio waves, causing “dead zones”. For residents in such buildings coverage is likely a problem that need to be addressed. Other families live in apartments that might have excellent Wi-Fi coverage, but since radio resources are simultaneously used by several family members on different devices, lower throughput is a potential risk. Different types of applications used in a household also require different types of Wi-Fi performance. Gaming, for example, requires low latency, whereas streaming of high-resolution video content requires excellent throughput. So which technologies address these challenges?
Mesh Wi-Fi eliminates “dead zones”
Simplified, mesh consists of two or more router-like devices that work together to create better Wi-Fi coverage with the main purpose of eliminating dead zones. Typically, the components of a mesh solution are one gateway and one or more mesh extenders, but other configurations are also possible. Mesh nodes are linked to each other using Wi-Fi or wired backhaul connections.
Mesh systems are self-configuring, meaning that both network topology and type of link used between interconnected nodes are automatically selected by the system. This makes it possible to create seamless wireless roaming for those using the Wi-Fi network around the house. Devices are thereby able to connect to nearby access points with the same SSID without losing connection, resulting in reduced packet loss and latency. It also eliminates the need to re-authenticate on roaming. Implemented mobility algorithms allow mesh nodes and clients to exchange Wi-Fi environment related information and influence client roaming decisions by the network. This leads to more seamless roaming experience i.e. better roaming decisions, faster roaming process and less probing, which means more efficient use of airtime and lower client battery consumption.
Wi-Fi 6 – the next generation of Wi-Fi
But the capabilities of mesh are only one piece of the puzzle. One way of further improving the quality of Wi-Fi is the introduction of a new standard called AX (802.11ax), also known as Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 was originally built in response to the growing number of devices in the household as a solution that more efficiently deals with the situation where many users have to share Wi-Fi resources available in the house. It’s a more effective way of distributing bandwidth which also generates increased throughput, lowered latency and better coverage. Wi-Fi 6 provides up to 4 times more capacity to handle numerous devices, almost 40% higher peak rates and 75% less latency compared to Wi-Fi 5. In addition, the Wi-Fi 6’s BSS coloring mechanism offers a new way of handling interferences from neighboring networks more efficiently, making sure the router ignores them which increases the overall capacity of the Wi-Fi solution.
Combining cutting-edge technologies
Thus far, there is no single technology available today capable of addressing all Wi-Fi challenges, but different technologies can be combined, creating on overall solution that cover all the bases. Many operators are now looking into the benefits of offering several cutting-edge technologies that complement each other, such as mesh and Wi–Fi 6. By doing so they will be able to take on more responsibility for the quality of experience of the Wi-Fi inside the subscriber’s home.
In order for the operator to take such responsibility, the Wi-Fi network needs to be managed by the operator using a management system supporting TR-069 or USP. This allows for remote assistance for the subscriber as well as software upgrades, basic network optimization (SSID change, channel selection, optimal extender placement) and proactive support. We will delve deeper into the subject of managed solutions in an upcoming article.
If you can provide all such technologies in a unified management solution, you will be able to address all the major challenges of smart home Wi-Fi that the end users are experiencing today.
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