Understanding Wireless Router, Mesh Network and Transition to Wi-Fi 6

by  Anubhava Jain  - 12-14-2020 

In this technological era, the number of connected devices in a home has increased drastically over the past few years. Consumers are focused on IoT devices such as home automation, 4K/high definition video streaming and online gaming more than ever before, which in turn has quadrupled the amount of data transferred over the internet. Consequently, the utmost consideration needs to be taken when selecting your next router.

Wi-Fi® Technology: IEEE 802.11 is the international Wi-Fi standard that defines the technology generation. For example, “802.11 n/ac/ax” signifies a specific standard of 802.11ac, which was published in late 2013 and then updated in 2016, also termed as Wi-Fi 5. With the advent of 802.11ax, commonly known as Wi-Fi 6, the throughput is significantly higher. The theoretical maximum speed achievable with Wi-Fi 5 (11ac – 160MHz) is 6.9 Gbps and with Wi-Fi 6 (11ax - 160MHz) it is 9.6 Gbps. Another key aspect not to be overlooked is the operating frequency band, as Wi-Fi 5 works in the 5GHz band, whereas Wi-Fi 6 supports 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz, bands. 

What does “band” mean? Single-band routers are history; the modern-day is about dual/tri-band routers. Dual-band means that the router uses two frequency bands of the spectrum for the transmission of data packets, i.e. 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Tri-band router uses the 2.4 GHz,5 GHz and 6Ghz bands, allowing the device to select a network using a band steering algorithm, making them less congested by balancing out the load for each of three bands.

The 2.4 GHz band is more congested as compared to the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands; Bluetooth® adds another bottleneck for the interference as it operates in the same 2.4 GHz band but with different technology. Also, some other non-Wi-Fi devices, like a cordless phone, might hinder the performance. However, one advantage of using the 2.4 GHz frequency is that it penetrates the walls more efficiently than 5 GHz/6 GHz, as lower frequency symbolizes higher wavelengths and ensures better coverage. In the latter case, 8x8 MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) will significantly help in range extension.

Interpretation of antennas and spatial streams: The MIMO specification plays an important role in terms of antenna configuration like 4x4, 1x1, etc. The numbers denote the number of transmitting (Tx)/receive (Rx) antennas. Another aspect of choosing the correct router is spatial streams (SS), which are generally denoted like 4x4:4, implying that they are using 4 SS for sending out the unique data over the same channel using spatial multiplexing. Wi-Fi 5/6 supports up to 8SS which means higher throughput. The more antennas, the greater ability for multiple simultaneous data streams and improved beamforming in order to steer individual streams with a compensated phase shift so that higher throughput can be achieved.

Moving forward, be sure to check the internet service provider’s (ISP) speed packages (in Mbps) to ensure you are getting the coverage you want. Some ISPs offer an integrated unit (modem/router in a single unit) for rent. For more tech-savvy users, it is worth looking into the feature availability and purchasing your own equipment. Other things to consider when selecting a router include a multi-core processor and WPA3 encryption for security considerations.

Mesh Network: Given how many of us have adapted to remote work and virtual learning this year, the number of simultaneous users and devices has increased.  Whereas earlier the raw throughput of your home router was a key-value, today the resiliency and coverage of the network at the edges are equally important.  Depending on the home topology, there could be some dead spots. In order to maximize the Wi-Fi blanket over the area that can boosts the speed up, mesh networks should be used.  

The nodes, or commercially known as pods, are Wi-Fi extenders that are placed strategically and connected to the main hub which is connected via an ethernet cable to the broadband gateway to form a network for better coverage. This topology makes the dead spots “alive” by rebroadcasting the data packet making the handoff flawless and making the pods a virtual access point. A typical router can cover up to 2500 sq. ft of area. But a mesh network can double the coverage area up to 5000 sq. ft. depending on the pod count (typically 2-3).

With the backbone of artificial intelligence, the pods can select the fastest route within the network and help by optimizing bandwidth based on the device's needs. For example, an IoT device will use less bandwidth than a laptop. If the nodes are synchronized, they can easily be managed by an app on your smartphone. The selling points of these small pods are their ease of use and plug-n-play installation to provide seamless Wi-Fi coverage.

Transition to Wi-Fi 6/6E: Wi-Fi 6 leverages key features like 8x8 MU-MIMO, OFDMA, extended range and basic service set (BSS) coloring for better spatial reuse. In Wi-Fi 6 network congestion is reduced, increasing the capacity, performance and reducing power consumption. A few other considerations are Target Wake Time (TWT) for better power management; WPA3 for enhanced security; and 1024 QAM for increased throughput.

Figure 1. 6GHz Unlicensed Band Further Expands Wi-Fi Networks

Next up will be Wi-Fi 6E, which refers to Wi-Fi 6 over the 6 GHz band which opens up the 1200MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi use recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The introduction of the 6GHz band is expected to bring about new performance and usability for Wi-Fi 6 devices.

The next Wi-Fi standard, IEEE 802.11be, is set to establish 320MHz channel operation in the 6GHz band using up to 16x16 MIMO configuration on infrastructure devices. The combination of these developments can increase speed to over 40Gbps, offer previously unseen range performance, and lead to a new age of advanced Wi-Fi applications.

Figure 2. Overall Timeline for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E Adoption

ON Semiconductor’s Wi-Fi 6E solutions are designed to accommodate the transition to Wi-Fi 6E while addressing mainstream 6GHz applications. As Wi-Fi 6E infrastructure proliferates, it will seed the 6GHz ecosystems. Client devices will also benefit from improved efficiency, less interference and lower latency and jitter, providing a better user experience across applications and environments.

Check out our QCS-AX2 Solutions or learn more about Wi-Fi 6E technology:


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Tags:Internet of Things, IoT, Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi
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