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What is 802.11ax and what benefits does it offer over 802.11ac?

What is 802.11ax WiFi and how does it compare to 802.11ac? Here’s all you need to know about wireless networking with 802.11ax, which will give us the home WiFi network of the future.

Chances are if you own a house and live with a couple of kids, you’ve already got a dozen or so devices scattered around your home which connect to the internet. Televisions, smart heating systems, phones, tablets, games consoles; they’re all passing data to and from your modem, in some cases rather massive amounts. After all, video streaming via the likes of Netflix is incredibly demanding, especially if you want the splendour of 4K resolution movies and shows.

By 2022, chipset manufacturer Qualcomm says that many households will have up to 50 connected devices overall. That’s mostly thanks to the Internet Of Things (IoT), which means everything from your fridge to your pet’s collar will have a live link to your mobile devices so you can manipulate them remotely.

But as many of us have already experienced, a lot of connected devices means some serious strain on your home WiFi router. The result can be a bottle neck, which means slowdown, buffering and drop-outs. Not fun.

Which is where 802.11ax comes in.

What is 802.11ax?

802.11ax is a new WiFi communication standard, designed to cope with a large number of devices at once. 50 different gadgets all demanding a slice of the internet pie shouldn’t be a problem at all, even if they’re using a large amount of data.

Ready for some techy specs? 802.11ax works on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and it introduces OFDMA (which stands for the catchy Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access). This basically helps to reduce the amount of interference from other nearby WiFi networks, by using finer channels.

802.11ax vs 802.11ac: What’s the difference?

So, what advantages does 802.11ax actually offer over the existing 802.11ac standard?

Well, the main benefit is that 802.11ax offers up to four times the device capacity compared with 802.11ac. In other words, you can connect four times as many streaming boxes, TVs, phones and other online devices at the same time. You now have 12 spacial streams in all: four in the 2.4GHz band, and eight in the 5GHz band. Usually you just get four in total, so that's a serious step up.

You also get four times the user throughput with 802.11ax, an essential feature if you’re going to be connecting so many gadgets at once. This means you shouldn’t notice slower upload and download speeds than before, even with a lot more devices demanding data.

Find your current WiFi range quite limiting? The good news is that 802.11ax offers improved coverage, so you can spread your devices out more than ever before. And yet despite all of these improvements, 802.11ax also gives you extended device battery life.

802.11ax timeline: When will 802.11ax devices and routers come to the UK?

Qualcomm has just launched the first two 802.11ax compatible chips – the IPQ8074, designed for use in routers, and the QCA6290 designed for use in connected devices such as phones and tablets. However, even though these chips are now a reality, there is no estimated arrival date for the first 802.11ax routers and devices.

Hardware standardisation should be done by summer 2017 according to Qualcomm, so the first 802.11ax routers could be released in the UK and worldwide as early as second half of 2017. Otherwise, 2018 is a safe bet.

802.11ax will also be coming to the automotive industry soon, so you can expect to see cars with 802.11ax networking capabilities in the next year or so.

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