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Certified or Compatible? What You Need to Know When Considering Wi-Fi 6

Be careful when considering Wi-Fi 6 devices: there are already vendors whose products lack a primary Wi-Fi 6 requirement, OFDMA-uplink capability and won’t qualify as certified devices. If you don’t read the data sheets carefully, watching for asterisks, you could be stuck. That’s one of the key takeaways from Interop Tokyo.

I had the pleasure of attending Interop Tokyo last week, and a great opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on 802.11ax with the chair of the IEEE 11ax task group, Osama Aboul-Magd. We had a fantastic in-depth discussion on the status of 11ax/Wi-Fi 6, or at least I thought so because there were no open seats in the room!

Some key takeaways from the session include:

The technology is set.

Even though the final signatures on the IEEE standard are still a little ways away and the WFA Wi-Fi 6 certification won’t begin until Q3 2019, you’re safe to select products today with the caveat that it is your responsibility to confirm what you are buying will meet Wi-Fi 6 certification requirements. See my next point for further details on that note.

Certifiable vs. compatible or compliant.

All vendors know what will be the mandatory requirements for Wi-Fi 6 (and you can too, just review the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi 6 White Paper).

However, there are already several vendors offering products that lack a primary Wi-Fi 6 requirement, OFDMA-uplink capability. My advice? Read the data sheets carefully, watch for asterisks, and ask questions on how this issue will be fixed.

If you see words like ‘11ax compatible’ or ‘Wi-Fi 6 compliant,’ in a vendor’s data sheet, you should be very concerned. However, when you see 11ax or more importantly “Wi-Fi 6 certifiable”, this statement will ensure their product will meet Wi-Fi Alliance certification requirements.

Power requirements.

These are all over the map and range from 802.3af (with limited services) to 803.3at (the most common) to some requiring 802.3bt and even dual PoE cable runs for full capability. This will significantly impact deployments and budgets if all new edge switches are required.

Dual 5Ghz (software defined radios).

The value of an AP is no longer up for debate. If both radios can operate in 5Ghz it allows the AP to match the 2.5GHz and 5GHz mix of clients.

Wi-Fi 6 makes SDR radios even more important as it enables client steering based on technology, allowing you to group and segment 11ax and non-11ax capable clients.


Even though the 11ax standard doesn’t really add any additional security capabilities, it does add the new Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA3) as a prerequisite. Therefore, you get enhanced security to go along with all the other improvements to Wi-Fi 6.


When will more clients start to appear? I expect an 11ax Christmas!

Wi-Fi isn’t going away.

I think we finally put to bed the idea that 5G will eliminate the need for Wi-Fi 6. The most telling example of why this won’t happen is the industry’s own math. Estimates predict there will be about 1.5 billion 5G devices by 2024, yet today there are an estimated 4.7 billion mobile phones, so they won’t even be the majority of their own market.

Now realize there are approximately 9 billion Wi-Fi devices today and estimates of 3 billion more each year. By doing the math and you can see 5G will not displace Wi-Fi anytime soon.

The bottom-line is Wi-Fi is the best choice and Wi-Fi 6 is available now, from the right vendor.

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