New Wi-Fi Standard Will Boost Campus Connection Speeds

802.11ax promises less congestion, faster data and better battery life.

There’s a new Wi-Fi standard in town, and it could be a game changer for K–12 school districts. Network World calls 802.11ax “the next big thing” that actually lives up to its hype. 

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What Is the 802.11ax Wireless Standard?

Everyone knows what happens when a Wi-Fi network is at capacity. Too much streaming, tweeting and videoconferencing on a local network can grind activities to a halt.

But data is about to fly much faster. The current standard for wireless LAN is 802.11ac. Created and maintained by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the 802.11 family of specifications guides everyone from chip makers to networking professionals to build and connect devices that work together. However, as early as 2014, the IEEE was already looking toward new technology to skyrocket wireless data speeds, resulting in the newest member of the family — 802.11ax.

802.11ax will be standard within the next few years. Intel and other manufacturers have announced that they’ll have 802.11ax chipsets ready in 2018, and several sources, including PCWorld, say we should start seeing 802.11ax in new devices by 2019, with full implementation a few years after that.

How 802.11ax Will Improve the Modern Classroom

The new standard was designed for a world where people upload and download millions of gigabytes of data. In the arena of K–12 education, this means more possibilities for conducting data-heavy activities using Wi-Fi, for anything from computer-aided design to machine learning. 

The technology behind 802.11ax is estimated to boost data speeds four to 10 times faster over existing Wi-Fi because of a much more efficient allocation of data. Using a number of strategies, 802.11ax will use the same Wi-Fi channels that are currently used, but maximize the capacity of those channels. 

The advantages will be:

  • Much faster data speeds, at least four times as fast;
  • Less congestion, as more data flows through channels more efficiently; and,
  • Better battery life, for several reasons. For one, the client, like a computer or a phone, doesn’t have to work as hard if the data is traveling much faster. Another new feature of the new standard is called “target wake time,” or TWT, which increases the amount of time devices sleep, conserving batteries.

How K–12 School Districts Should Prepare for 802.11ax

The advantages of 802.11ax are in hardware, not software. According to PCWorld, new hardware will be backward-compatible, meaning that new routers, access points and other equipment will support 802.11ax standards, as well as previous standards. So the good news is that campuses can upgrade in stages and won’t need to overhaul hardware all at once.

Additionally, according to an article from The Hive Community, as more clients adapt to 802.11ax, they will use bandwidth more efficiently, freeing up airtime for older devices and improving the overall effectiveness of the system.

Overall, education technology professionals should keep a watch on 802.11ax to stay on top of what products are available and how they can fit into and enhance current campus networks.

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May 17 2018