04 Jan 802.11AX Is Coming From Intel In 2018

Today, Intel announced it will be expanding its portfolio of Wi-Fi chips with 802.11AX chipsets for 2×2 and 4×4 home routers, and gateways for cable, DSL, fiber, and other consumer retail devices. Heralded as the next generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11AX promises to replace the current Wi-Fi networks that we use today. The importance of the new 802.11AX standard and its associated chipsets is amplified by the fact that the home router or gateway will become the digital front door into many people’s homes. Previously, people had a separate phone, television and internet devices/services, but they are all now converging through IP services (like VoIP), TV streaming services (like Netflix ), and Cable/Fiber IPTV. Because so many different types of communications and smart home capabilities will also be managed by the home gateway or Wi-Fi network, it is becoming an increasingly important device in the home for everyone to be involved in.

As a refresher, 802.11AX builds on many of the technologies from the previous standard, 802.11AC, such as the ability to serve multiple users simultaneously (Multi-User MIMO). With the implementation of OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) waveforms, borrowed from the cellular world, 802.11AX Wi-Fi becomes even more stable and efficient at delivering bits, making it faster. This technology promises to also improve upload speeds over Wi-Fi as well, an area that has suffered due to focus on downlink performance improvements. Overall, 802.11AX is designed to deal with the extremely dense network conditions that most users have today, with many wireless devices connected to the same Wi-Fi network at the same time. It also will be able to operate in both 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands of unlicensed spectrum and improve both 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bandwidth and coverage—something 802.11AC couldn’t do.

Intel ’s play in the 802.11AX segment is focused on multi-media and smart home experiences because that’s where the majority of Wi-Fi usage is headed, and those are areas that Intel has experience in. Intel ’s new chips will be 802.11AX Draft 2.0 compliant which should enable them to comply with the final standard of 802.11AX due next year. Intel is also enabling optimizations between the 802.11AX chipsets that will be in its routers, gateways, and access points. Interoperability is important, especially for Wi-Fi—following the latest standard is a must.

Because Intel is already in many home gateways and routers, the company is enabling its partners to make the transition from 802.11AC to 802.11AX by allowing them to swap Wi-Fi chipsets without changing out the host SoC. This should simplify the process for companies wanting to bring new products quickly to market, without having to completely redesign their devices and software. I see this as a welcome transition for Intel. 802.11AC’s life was short and it didn’t gain as much adoption as people would have liked—I think 802.11AX will likely have longer legs and do a better job of serving today’s connected environment.

Naturally, Intel isn’t alone in these developments—there will likely be numerous 802.11AX announcements at CES 2018. The reality is that the home will continue to become a denser environment, with more and more devices depending on smooth and consistent Wi-Fi connections with faster speeds. As people’s multimedia and connected home needs increase, the Wi-Fi router and home gateway will become an increasingly important point of control for ISPs and other stakeholders in consumer tech and media consumption.