Wi-Fi 6: new challenges – and an adaptable process

The new wave of wireless is here. Known as Wi-Fi 6 (or, less thrillingly, 802.11ax), it delivers four times faster average throughput compared to Wi-Fi 5 with greater than 5 Gb/s data rate capability. That’s a maximum of 9.6 Gbps – theoretical, of course, though the headline rates are still impressive.

Wi-Fi 6 also supports a much larger volume of mobile devices in dense deployment environments (large public spaces like arenas and airports), and it does so more efficiently. If multiple end users (including IoT end users – that is, things as well as people) are being served in a busy environment, Wi-Fi will be able to cope a lot better than its predecessors – and with less drain on batteries or diminishing of battery life.

Wi-Fi 6, as one commentator puts it, couples the freedom and high speed of gigabit ethernet wireless with the reliability and predictability of licensed radio, not least thanks to its use of the channel access mechanism known as orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA).

It’s the latest innovation from the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry organisation that since its formation in 1999, has grown with the technology to become a major driver of new Wi-Fi applications and products.

Wi-Fi is one of the most widely implemented and deployed technologies ever invented – and the new iteration shows every sign of continuing that trend. But despite the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, designing RF, analog and mixed signal blocks for Wi-Fi remains a challenge for the engineer – and it isn’t going to go away with the arrival of Wi-Fi 6.

For example, at some point will be required to take this specific version of Wi-Fi 6 and move it from one manufacturing process to another, if a customer so desires, to help that customer lower cost, reduce power consumption, improve performance or enhance manufacturing flexibility, for example.

Let’s be clear about this: we’re not moving from Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6. That would be an architecture change. This is about shifting manufacturing processes coupled with design improvement – within the technology.

Will dealing with Wi-Fi 6 mean that our work process becomes slightly more expensive or takes more time than before? Perhaps. But it will still be cost-effective, and thus the whole point of analog IP reuse will still be valid.

But, like Wi-Fi, we are constantly improving. We have been able to reduce the number of iterations it takes to get from our starting point all the way to eventual layout migration – and we are continuing that improvement process. We also have a lot of relevant experience to draw on and build on, most notably in dual band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This will help us to help our customers to find the cost-effective approach they need, which is our aim in every job we take on – even when it involves a brand-new evolution of Wi-Fi.

We are aware that Wi-Fi 6 will offer new challenges. But the process we will be applying is one in which we are well versed and which can be adapted to this new wave of wireless – if you have the skill and the experience. And we have both.