From 11Mbps To 11Gbps: The Evolution Of Wifi Standards To 802.11Ax Wifi Strategies Revealed
11Mbps To 11Gbps WiFi is currently active and deactivated at the push of a button on the mobile. It connects itself to the networks and, almost by magic, you receive the precious Internet on the screen of your smartphone. But for this seemingly simple fact to occur, an amount of technology must have developed such that even Hedy Lamarr, an actress and engineer born in 1914, participated in it thanks to her research on the frequency hopping.
It is easy to think that WiFi is with us almost always, but it was not until 1997 when the first of its standards was developed, one that was then named with a strange but explainable number, 802.11, and that has been receiving different last names in years letter form. The 802.11 are, in fact, a family of specifications developed by the IEEE and related to wireless LAN networks, using 2.4GHz bands until the arrival of the dual WiFis, and the 5GHz. But let’s review the different standards it has been going through in these 21 years.
As we said, WiFi standards were created in 1997, but it was not until 1999 when products were marketed under that name, WiFi, and two first unified standards for the entire market that solved several interoperability problems of the first 802.11 standard. In 1999 we attended the birth of the WiFi a and WiFi b standards, although we will first try the model b, one of the most widespread at the time of arrival.
With WiFi b a physical layer was established to use the direct sequence extension spectrum, or DSSS. This WiFi standard defined that the network should operate in the 2.4GHz band, maintained until today, and in a single channel that occupied 20MHz bandwidth. With this standard, only the low QPSK modulation was accepted and limited the data sending speed to 11Mbps.
Although the WiFi standard ran parallel to the b, technical difficulties in the production of components compatible with the frequency set, that of 5GHz, meant that WiFi b became the most popular in the market, with WiFi being left at a very secondary plan until its accession to WiFi ac years later. Compared to the b, the WiFi a offered, however, a much higher transfer rate, up to 54Mbps.
As we mentioned at the beginning, WiFi standards have evolved over time, and the arrival of WiFi g meant important corrections on the previous two standards. WiFi g landed still running in the 2.4GHz band but added more advanced features to the wave, such as orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, known as OFDM, or an innovative quadrature amplitude modulation, 64QAM.
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This new standard did not increase the speed of data transmission, which inherited the 54Mbps that were already achieved with the WiFi standard a, but it did make the devices compatible with it cheaper to manufacture due to its greater simplicity. Its efficiency was such that it was held in the market two years longer than standards a and b. Specifically, six years until the arrival of WiFi n in September 2009, one of the most widespread today.
WiFi g lasted many years in the market, but the arrival of WiFi was an important revolution in the wireless communications market, and it did so by taking advantage of the improvements achieved so far and adding some of its own harvest. Among them, the possibility of using different antennas. Specifically, up to four antennas between the transmitter and the receiver, which improved not only the performance of the wireless transmission but also the robustness, since any of the intermediate antennas could “fall off” and continue to function. Slower and with worse coverage, but operational.
The WiFi n standard came in supporting the two frequency bands that had been used so far. A device with WiFi n could connect to both 2.4GHz networks and 5GHz networks, and extended bandwidth for the first time since the development of the standard. The 20MHz of the beginning were multiplied by two, reaching 40Hz, still with OFDM and 64QAM, but raising the transmission speed to 600Mbps, 11 times more than the maximum allowed by the WiFi g standard, replaced since then.
Only four years after the arrival of WiFi n, the first standard for wireless devices with dual connectivity was born. The WiFi ac came, built on the basis of WiFi n, just like the previous ones, but that brought another significant increase in speed thanks, again, to an increase in bandwidth. If WiFi n jumped from 20 to 40MHz, with WiFi ac we jump to a maximum of 160Mhz, a gift from the different MIMO streams that came with the standard.
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As an addition to this jump in bandwidth, quadrature amplitude modulation was extended up to four times. The 64QAM gave way to 256QAM thus increasing greater data compaction, and sending more information through the same tunnel. More tunnels, wider, and more information. All this, together with the beamforming, already present in WiFi n but more standardized and increasing the quality of the signal and the speed of the connections. With the WiFi ac standard, the maximum data transmission speed in WiFi networks reached 7Gbps.
The last approved standard, which theoretically comes into operation in the same year 2018 but that does not yet have compatible devices, nor transmitters or receivers, is the WiFi 802.11ax, or WiFi ax. As we see by its acronym, a new implementation of a dual wireless communications system, and that brings with it a new improvement in robustness and speed. Especially the latter, since it takes the maximum speed up to 10.53Gbps.
To achieve this, the WiFi ax will use the same frequency band as other previous standards, 5GHz, and will use the new MIMO-OFDA. With this new advance on the multiple input and output channels, the WiFi ax will be able to optimize data transfer and increase speed. Not to mention that, again, we will have up to eight 256QAM channels of up to 160MHz. The WiFi Alliance estimates that the mass adoption of this WiFi ax will not occur until 2019, so it’s time to wait. But in the meantime, we can dream that we will have up to 1.4 gigabits of data transferred from one device to another per second.