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Look Out World! Here Comes Wi-Fi6 (aka 802.11ax)

The latest, fastest, and much-touted version of wireless networking, known as Wi-Fi6 or 802.11ax, reached the product certification stage this past Monday. That means it's now possible to buy tested, certified gear that’s Wi-Fi6 compliant.

The Wi-Fi alliance is now certifying Wi-Fi6 products.Let me start by observing that the Wi-Fi Alliance (wi-fi.org) is a global network of companies that deliver Wi-Fi technologies to businesses, organizations, and individuals. The IEEE still writes the specifications for wireless communication (in which context, Wi-Fi6 is more formally known as 802.11ax).

 

The Wi-Fi Alliance is all about doing wireless networking business, which is why they’re involved in educating the world about wireless networking, so as to better prime the market for their products. On Monday (Sept. 16), the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that its certification program for Wi-Fi6 devices is now up and running.

 

I hasten to observe that this is a different variety of certification than the ones I usually write about for GoCertify. This certification has to do with the formal submission of devices to one of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s independent Authorized Test Labs. Those who pay for testing and pass the required criteria are "certified" as being up to snuff.

 

This lets them plop a “Wi-Fi 6 CERTIFIED™” label on their gear: network interfaces, wireless routers and access points, etc. This lets buyers know an item has been tested to make sure it works with all of Wi-Fi6’s many advanced and complex features (see the announcement for more engineering gobbledygook on same).

 

Why Am I Telling IT Professionals About Wi-Fi6?

 

The announcement already reports that the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and the Ruckus R570 represent “the world’s first Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 smartphone and access point, respectively.” The remaining wireless networking component and equipment manufacturers will no doubt be racing to get their stuff certified soon. If, that is, said stuff is not already in the certification pipeline at one of the Authorized Test Labs.

 

Because Wi-Fi6 offers theoretical speeds of 10 Gbps (never gonna happen in the real world), and lab-tested speeds of 1.29 Gbps under test (source: C|Net), it’s about 20 or 30 percent faster than Wi-Fi5 (better known as 802.11ac). It also supports wider broadcast channels (160 MHz instead of the more typical 20 and 40 MHz channels for most Wi-Fi versions) and better handling for lots of multiple simultaneous users — thanks to better access methods and antenna technology.

 

Two C|Net articles are good sources for more technical details (the Wi-Fi Alliance announcement includes lots of interesting testimonials and links to other more info about Wi-Fi6, too):

 

Wi-Fi 6 certification is here to make next-gen speeds a widespread reality
Wi-Fi 6: Better, faster internet is coming — here's what you need to know

 

Of course, it’s still too early to say exactly when Wi-Fi6 related material is going to make its way into the plethora of certs that include wireless networking coverage and technology. So I’ve floated a couples of inquiries to ask about when such material might (not will) start showing up on relevant cert exams.

 

To that end, I called into Planet3 Wireless (the organization behind the CWNP, or Certified Wireless Networking Professional) and CompTIA (the folks behind Network+) to ask about what, if anything is on the horizon. So far, nobody’s gotten back to me with an answer.

 

To some extent, I already know what I going to hear: “New content will be incorporated the next time the certification exam is revised or updated.” For CWNP, this occurs approximately once every 2-to-3 years. Their exams were updated most recently toward the end of 2018, so it’s likely you’ll see Wi-Fi6 content in late 2020 or some time in 2021.

 

The latest Network+ exam is version N10-007, released in March 2018, and scheduled for retirement sometime in 2021. Thus, it looks like candidates for these two certs will have some time to study up before they need to get too worked up about encountering exam questions that touch on this latest and greatest wireless technology.

 

The Wi-Fi alliance is now certifying Wi-Fi6 products.But now that commercial products are becoming available, it’s just a matter of time (probably less than a year, and possibly less than 6 months) before workplace Wi-Fi6 deployments start happening en masse. That’s why I’m spreading the word now, and providing info and pointers.

 

Given the ongoing and always increasing “need for speed” in networking, your exposure to Wi-Fi6 will probably happen fairly soon. I bought a Wi-Fi6 router last week (I have to guess that ASUS is already in the certification process for its 802.11ax products, including my RT-AX88U router).

 

In playing with the technology, I can see its appeal for workplace use. It really, truly is about as fast as gigabit Ethernet (GbE), so it could be a genuine alternative to wired networking. Or at least it could in most places where interference won’t be an issue — or where wiring costs for new deployments are part of the overall cost equation.

 

We'll know more as more products hit the market, and as wireless networking certification exams slowly, gradually catch up. Stay tuned!

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ed-tittel120Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Business News Daily, and on Windows desktop OS topics for TechTarget and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com.