Are You Ready for the Christmas of Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6(802.11ax) is the current Wi-Fi Tour de Force of networking. There is not a networking vendor, consultant or service provider not talking about or writing about it, both positive or negative. The number of articles is overwhelming and there is no time to read them all. Yet, here I am writing another one; and additionally what does Wi-Fi 6 have to do with Christmas?

Let’s start from the beginning. Some vendors, including Extreme started the development of Wi-Fi 6 APs over two years ago. This was shortly after the IEEE had solidified the technology and had a solid draft standard. Note that no one waits for the final standard to be completed as that is a long-drawn-out logistical process that in fact the IEEE still hasn’t completed, even though the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) has already started it’s Wi-Fi 6 certification program. More information on the IEEE and WFA processes is available here.  Now about a year ago we actually started shipping Wi-Fi 6 capable products and as soon as we did, the first question from partners and customers started, where are the clients? Competitors without a solution also used this same argument, at least till they launched their own products and then they no longer had an issue.. But, back to the topic at hand: clients.  A key point to appreciate is that a primary driver for any new generation of the access point is new Wi-Fi technology, Wi-Fi 6 in this case. As soon as the technology was solid, vendors raced to get their products built and shipping, but not so much for the client manufacturers. Taking a look at some major Wi-Fi client manufacturers, like Samsung, Apple, Intel, HP, and others with 11ax products shipping or just announced, none of them focused on support of Wi-Fi 6 as a primary driver, it was higher processor speed, more pixels, a foldable screen or any of a half dozen new and attractive features that would get customers to buy their devices. So where 11ax technology drove the launch date for APs, it was only a second-tier component, at best, in most client-side devices. The launch schedule for the latest phones was driven by eye-catching features, not wireless technology advancements, that only us nerds can appreciate. So what does this have to do with Christmas? Hold on, I am getting there.

Almost a year ago we started a series of 45+ Wi-Fi 6 roadshows throughout North America and Europe and in almost every case the Q&A always came back to client availability. After a while I started to say, wait till Christmas. This wasn’t a dodge, it was based on conversations I had with individuals at the IEEE and WFA meetings I attended. They couldn’t publicly state what or when, but the products were coming by end of the year. And this was only logical as the exact same companies making the chipsets for our and other vendors APs were also making chips for the client’s devices, the technology was done and the chips were sitting on the shelf waiting for the next scheduled release of products (phones, tablets, laptops, ..). Over the last several months Samsung, Asus, Apple, HP, Dell, Intel, and many others have either shipped or announced products supporting Wi-Fi 6 wireless technology. And those companies who have just announced products are promising huge volumes before the end of the year. So as I said in the title, this will be the Christmas of Wi-Fi 6. 

Over the last decade or so Christmas gifts have shifted dramatically towards digital and electronic toys, games and communication devices. This year will be the same, but all those boxes will have new Wi-Fi 6 stickers on them. On a side note, we saw a 300% jump in 11ax-capable clients connected to our cloud after the iPhone 11 release. The magic of small but growing numbers none the less. Imagine what you will see on your network the week after Christmas, especially if you manage an education network. All the students showing up with their shiny new Wi-Fi 6 products. What does this mean to you? Time to ask your Wi-fi solution provider if they detect only how devices are currently connected or can they (like Extreme) detect which technologies the clients are capable of supporting. This is key in helping you determine when its time to think about the next Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrade.

So as a final thought, there are only six more paydays till Christmas and when you looking for electronic gifts for family and friends, look for the Wi-Fi 6 label on the box. Only kidding. But all kidding aside, it will be a Wi-Fi 6 Christmas. Check your network before you go on break and after you come back. Let me know what you find. You can probably text me on your Wi-Fi 6 enabled phone.

This blog was originally authored by Perry Correll, Director, Product Marketing.

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