Wi-Fi 6 is gaining digital ground. In September, this sixth-generation wireless standard was certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Also known as High Efficiency Wireless (HEW) or 802.11ax, the next iteration of Wi-Fi promises faster speeds, simultaneous connections and reduced device battery usage.
With 77 percent of postsecondary campuses now adopting Internet of Things technologies to improve access and enhance student engagement, smart campus Wi-Fi solutions are critical to deliver on performance promises and meet evolving expectations.
But simply ripping and replacing current network devices with Wi-Fi 6 solutions won’t earn top marks for ROI. As noted by CBR Online, while 85 percent of organizations already use IoT solutions and are looking to implement wireless tech trends, they often struggle to connect IT rollouts with measurable returns.
The answer? To effectively leverage the future of wireless technology, start with a Wi-Fi 6 syllabus that covers three key concepts for campus use cases: design, infrastructure and implementation.
Apply Design Thinking to Wi-Fi 6 High-Capacity Access Points
As noted by Cisco Distinguished Systems Engineer Rob Barton, Wi-Fi 6 uses “fundamentally the same mechanism” as previous generations (802.11a, b, g and ac), making it backward-compatible and interchangeable with existing technology.
What sets Wi-Fi 6 apart is a shift away from competition-based algorithms that permit only serial connections — 802.11ax solves the problem “by letting multiple users transmit at the same time on different resource units.” This allows up to 4,000 simultaneous client connections, reducing the strain on networks now tasked with handling 60,000 to 70,000 devices, on average.
Here, design thinking is critical to maximize campus impact. While it’s possible to simply duplicate existing Wi-Fi networks using sixth-generation infrastructure, this ignores the ability of 802.11ax to increase total device volume. By deploying next-generation access points at scale, campus IT teams can both improve connection stability for IoT devices and diversify the type of devices present.
Using what’s known as targeted wake time (TWT), even battery-powered devices such as parking lot sensors or wireless security cameras can be connected to new Wi-Fi 6 networks and powered on only at specific intervals to deliver key data — then returned to dormancy until their next scheduled wake.
Account for Infrastructure Needs in Wi-Fi 6 Deployments
Barton puts it simply: When it comes to bandwidth on campuses, there’s never enough.
This will be even more critical as the number of connected devices continues to rise. While campuses such as Seneca College have already started their Wi-Fi 6 transition — just months after the new standard’s certification — connecting modernized admin buildings, residence halls and advanced research facilities means accounting for the sheer number of mobile devices, already-placed sensors and cloud-connected technologies populating new Wi-Fi networks.
As a result, colleges need a twofold approach to infrastructure assessment:
- Find the right fit: As Network Computing points out, with Wi-Fi 6 still in the early adopter stage, not all APs and routers are created equal. IT staff will be well served by evaluating industry leaders to find the best-fit backbone for new Wi-Fi and IoT deployments.
- Build out bandwidth: Last-mile connections are always the weakest link in network infrastructure. If current ISP bandwidth can’t meet increased throughput demand from always-connected IoT devices, new Wi-Fi 6 solutions won’t deliver on their potential. Before large-scale adoption starts, make sure campus connections are up to the challenge.
Assess Implementation Strategies for Wi-Fi 6 Networks
Wi-Fi 6 implementation doesn’t happen in isolation. According to PC Magazine, while new Wi-Fi standards will transform current wireless networks, the cellular equivalent (5G) also plays a critical role in deploying IoT at scale.
Consider security: While Barton notes that WPA3 protection offered by Wi-Fi 6 networks outpaces that of 5G for identity and access management, campuses need comprehensive solutions that permit seamless connection transfer between Wi-Fi and cellular networks as students move on and off campus but require the same level of secure access. Here, both dedicated identity access management tools and basic protections, such as two-factor authentication, can help bridge the security gap.
Barton also points to an increasing mismatch across data volumes and processing potential. With smart devices generating more data, more quickly, as campuses ramp up the number of simultaneous connections, distance from application to information becomes a critical concern.
Cloud architects will play a critical role in effective implementation as more campuses adopt cloud technologies and edge computing becomes the de facto standard, says Barton. In this environment, widely distributed Wi-Fi 6 APs will reduce the time required for apps to communicate with cloud resources and return critical results.
Wi-Fi 6’s newly minted official status means there’s no need to rush campus deployment, especially if IT teams lack strong links between next-generation networking standards and measurable smart device ROI. The best bet is to follow the syllabus. Start with design thinking: How do Wi-Fi 6 advantages align with current and future campus objectives? Next, shore up infrastructure to meet new AP bandwidth demands.
Finally, consider the implementation overlap between 5G, IoT and Wi-Fi 6 solutions.