What Will Enterprise WiFi Look Like in 2018?

With a new wireless networking standard set to be released in the near future, 2018 may prove to be a landmark year in enterprise WiFi.

From artificial intelligence (AI) to quantum computing to twisted light, IT commentators are speculating about a science fiction-like networking future that’s already beginning to take shape. But what about the more immediate future? With the exception of AI, none of these technological developments is likely to have a major impact on any aspect of enterprise WiFi in the coming year. Does that mean 2018 only going to bring more of the same for wireless networking? Not by a long shot.

A New WiFi Standard on the Horizon

When the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) officially approved the 802.11ac WiFi standard in early 2014, it provided enterprises with a faster, more powerful alternative to increasingly inadequate legacy standards like 802.11n and 802.11g. By more than doubling the bandwidth of its predecessors and introducing multi-user multi-input, multi-output (MU-MIMO) capabilities into the picture, 802.11ac was a landmark development in wireless networking.

That being said, with 802.11ax (a sixth-generation WiFi standard) in the final stages of IEEE certification, 2018 is likely the beginning of the end for 802.11ac. Preliminary tests indicate that 802.11ax will provide wireless speeds anywhere from four to ten times faster than those provided by the current standard. 802.11ac connections are capable of delivering 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds in optimized environments, but conservative estimates place average 802.11ax speeds at a game-changing 3.5 Gbps.

As impressive as this may be, the fact of the matter is that top-end speed usually isn’t the most pressing concern for enterprise IT teams. More industry professionals tend to have issues with network congestion, but 802.11ax promises a solution for this, as well. The MU-MIMO capabilities delivered by the 802.11ac standard were a step in the right direction, but 802.11ax builds on this progress with its introduction of orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA).

While MU-MIMO enables multiple devices to communicate with a single access point simultaneously, OFDMA enables multiple devices to share the same WiFi channel through sophisticated uplink and downlink scheduling. OFDMA allows an access point to exchange data with a client over a specified channel, even if it’s not finished with a previous request.

Hardware company Broadcom has already brought 802.11ax WiFi chips to market, and companies like Asus, D-Link, Netgear, and Microsoft are currently in the process of building access points around these chips. In all likelihood, it will only be a matter of months before organizations have a number of different 802.11ax-enabled access points to choose from, signaling the dawn of a new era in enterprise WiFi performance.

Other WiFi Opportunities

The adoption of 802.11ax WiFi will almost certainly be the top networking story of 2018, but enterprises are likely to also experiment with a variety of other upgrades. 802.11ad, a 60 GHz standard that offers very high throughputs over a very short range, may become increasingly popular in demand-intensive environments. “Zero trust” network security approaches could also become more mainstream as companies begin to more seriously tackle their cybersecurity issues.

Another development that has piqued many enterprises’ interest is intent-based networking. An umbrella term covering a range of different possible improvements to network programmability and automation, intent-based networking purports to simplify network management — especially in expansive environments — and increase the precision with which IT teams are able to provision their infrastructures.

Unfortunately intent-based arrangements still have several critical limitations. Not only do their centralized designs leave them vulnerable to cyberattacks, but they also fail to provide enterprise IT teams with the flexibility needed to thrive in rapidly changing network environments.

Ultimately, there’s no way for enterprises to be sure of the value of trends like intent-based networking. What enterprises can count on, however, is that WiFi will continue to mature at a record pace in the years to come. Keeping up with these changes can easily become overwhelming for even the most experienced IT teams, but by partnering with a networking expert like Turn-key Technologies, enterprises can ensure that their wireless infrastructure stays up-to-date throughout 2018 and beyond.

By Craig Badrick


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