How OFDMA Will Transform Enterprise Wireless Connectivity
WiFi 6 is coming out at the end of 2019, and it’s going to be a gamechanger. The secret weapon? OFDMA.
WiFi 6, also known as the 802.11ax standard, has been released and will be shipping at the end of 2019. The approach of this new WiFi standard requires CIOs to begin planning for a new era of wireless connectivity. With the proliferation of IoT and other wireless devices — which bring with them increased network demands — this release is timely and important.
We’ve written about WiFi 6 before, but to refresh your memory, WiFi 6 is a new wireless standard that operates over the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands. This means that it runs 37 percent faster than its wireless predecessor. But the name of the game isn’t just speed — it’s performance.
WiFi 6’s primary selling point is that it can improve bandwidth and wireless efficacy in today’s increasingly device-heavy climate. As such, we can expect WiFi 6 to be capable of handling the increased network demands of IoT and wearables in the enterprise. But to get the most out of WiFi 6, it’s important that CIOs understand one of its key foundational technologies: Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA).
What is OFDMA?
OFDMA is an extension of the OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) architecture, a process of encoding digital data on wireless networks. OFDMA’s key function is to enable access points to serve multiple clients at the same time.
Current WiFi technology does not have the capacity to handle device-heavy ecosystems. This is especially the case for smart and IoT devices. Although these devices tend to transmit small amounts of data, they do so constantly — as frequently as dozens of times per second. With a slew of devices fighting for bandwidth, WiFi 5 networks need an upgrade to work efficiently for the next generation of the connected office.
How Does OFDMA Work?
To understand how ODFMA increases the wireless efficacy of WiFi 6, it’s helpful to first understand how data is transmitted in traditional WiFi 5 environments.
Before data is transmitted from an access point to a user’s device, the access point has to first ensure that WiFi channels are clear — and WiFi 5 access points are unable to transmit or receive data while they do this. Sending data transmissions in this manner can create latency and network congestion, especially when older devices send large packets of data at lower rates. When this happens, a low-bandwidth traffic request — like using a smartwatch to simply turn on an office light, which should happen instantaneously — can take significantly longer to complete.
WiFi 6 access points have the speed and capacity to mitigate these issues with OFDMA. OFDMA enables WiFi 6 access points to send multiple simultaneous transmissions by splitting a channel into subchannels. These subchannels allow more transmissions to be sent at the same time, instead of having to wait for a single channel to clear. This dramatically reduces latency between transmissions and allows multiple devices with unique bandwidth needs to be served concurrently, rather than having individual devices compete against one another.
The Benefits of OFDMA
As of today, two thirds of enterprise workers use at least two devices in their day-to-day jobs, and nearly three quarters of companies have established a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. Over half of these companies report increases in productivity due to the use of smart devices and applications.
As long as companies continue seeing these kinds of increases in productivity, we can expect more and more devices to crop up in the workplace. It falls to CIOs and IT departments to ensure their networks are strong enough to support the demands these devices pose.
WiFi 6 was built specifically to meet these new demands, which is why it’s a smart investment. With OFDMA as the backbone of WiFi 6, enterprises can reap a slew of benefits for their wireless networks — improved data transmission between devices, lower latency for small packet transmission, and optimized communication channels between access points and network components. It can even improve individual device battery life.
In order to gain all of the benefits of WiFi 6, CIOs must first update their wireless networks. As of now, consumers are free to purchase WiFi 6 compatible devices, which are based on the draft standard. Once the official standard is launched at the end of the year, there will be a marked increase in the availability of WiFi 6 access points and other hardware in addition to these devices.
Updating a glut of legacy equipment can be difficult at the enterprise level, and CIOs will likely need all the support they can get as they begin purchasing new devices and access points. After all, new access points may mean new cabling, installation, and troubleshooting on top of standard IT responsibilities. This is where the experts at Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) can help.
With nearly thirty years of industry experience, we can help you roll out a WiFi 6 network with ease. Whether you’re a medium-sized company or a large enterprise, our award-winning engineers will offer you the support to ensure that your wireless network is ready to meet the demands of the future.
By Chris Voll