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Anatech Electronics Special Newsletter - 12/2017

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Anatech Electronics, a manufacturer of RF and microwave filters, has published a special newsletter for the end of the year. In it, Sam Benzacar talks about all the good stuff in the queue for WiFi in 2018. There can be no doubt that the number of WiFi-connected devices in the average home (10, per Sam's letter) is growing at a rapid rate. Nest thermostats, Echos (Alexa AI), webcams, cell phones, notebook computers, smart AC receptacles, WiFi-controlled light bulbs, among many others. IEEE 802.11ax is providing 1024QAM modulation at 9607 Mb/s data with multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). As has been the trend with all electronics, features and performance goes up while prices come down. It's a brave new world.

A Word from Sam Benzacar

Anatech Electronics Special Newsletter 12/2017 (Sam Benzacar) - RF Cafe

Help Is Coming for Wi-Fi in 2018

By Sam Benzacar

Next to cellular service, Wi-Fi is the undisputed champion of wireless services. It's so well suited for so many applications that in crowded places like airports, convention centers, and stadiums, it can be tough to connect or maintain a connection (Figure 1). Depending on the source you choose to believe, the average home has 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, and if it includes gamers and binge-watchers along with the usual smartphones and tablets, it's possible to max-out a legacy (i.e., 802.11b) access point that has only channels in the 2.4 GHz band at its disposal.

The ability of 802.11n and ac to use 5 GHz channels along with features like MIMO provides massive improvements, but it's likely even this won't be enough in the coming years. All of this hasn't been lost on the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wi-Fi chipset and equipment manufacturers, and help is on the way in the form of 802.11ax, most likely in a few months. When developing the standard, the primary focus was on addressing the issue of congestion rather than simply increasing speed. In fact, 802.11ax is only about 37% faster than 802.11ac but it builds on the "best" of its predecessor and add a long list of other tweaks, some for the first time in Wi-Fi.

A typical 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi signal environment (and far from the worst) shows the challenge for an access point

What's Inside

The list in Table 1 covers some but far from all of the differences between 802.11ax and 802.11ac, but they're the top tier. 802.11n, which preceded 802.11ac, uses both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels, but 802.11ac uses only those at 5 GHz, so a leapfrogging of sorts has been taking place, as 802.11ax also uses both frequencies. It also offers channels up to 160 MHz like 802.11ac but significantly increases capacity but upping the modulation rate to 1024QAM, a first for W-Fi.

Differences in data rates between the two are self-explanatory, and it's probably obvious that no one is likely to be experiencing a download rate of 9.6 Gb/s any time soon as Wi-Fi speed can only be as high as its source, typically broadband, and few people have anything close to even 1 Gb/s. That said, when 10 Gb/s becomes available 802.11ax will be ready. The widely quoted benchmark goal for 802.11ax is to deliver a four-times improvement in throughput and quality of service versus 802.11ac. It aims to deliver this indoors and outdoors and even in dense signal environments. Range is about the same as 802.11ac.

Table 1 –802.1ax Versus 802.11a

Table 1, 802.1ax Versus 802.11a - RF Cafe

In addition to the above, the major improvement in the new standard come from the following enhancements:

  • Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) modulation: Standards beginning with 802.11g use Orthogonal Frequency-division Multiplexing (OFDM) and as OFDMA lets multiple devices occupy the same channel, it increases spectral efficiency through better scheduling of devices to avoid "collisions" between them.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT): This new feature, at least for Wi-Fi, reduces device power consumption using precise synchronization algorithms so that a device is only fully awake when it needs to communicate with the access point.
  • Multi-User MIMO: Wi-Fi has availed itself of MIMO's benefits for some time. MU-MIMO is a lot more sophisticated as rather than being able to access a single device at one time, an access point can handle several while modifying the antenna pattern through beamforming (Figure 2) to dedicate the most resources to the user devices that needed it most. 802.11ac does this in the downlink path only; 802.11ax adds the uplink path as well.
  • Basic Service Set (BSS) coloring: A BSS is the term used to describe a Wi-Fi access point and all the devices that are connected to it. 802.11ax using a technique called "BSS coloring" to reduce co-channel interference. This should be a benefit in dense signal environments as it makes the reuse of channels more efficient.

Single-user MIMO sends its signal to every device - RF Cafe

Single-user MIMO (left) sends its signal to every device. Multi-user MIMO (right) forms beams (like phased-array radar) to active devices, dramatically increasing performance and potentially, range.

These enhancements and others collectively make 802.11ax a huge leap forward for Wi-Fi, and ought to improve overall quality of service everywhere, not just in the most challenging places it's targeted for. Of course, getting all of the benefits from 802.11ax requires a new access point (router) and an 802.11ax-enabled user device. The first such smartphones are likely to appear when the major players, primarily Samsung and Apple, introduce their next products in the fall. TVs and streaming devices could take longer, and public hotspots are likely to be last.


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About Anatech Electronics

Anatech Electronics, Inc. (AEI) specializes in the design and manufacture of standard and custom RF and microwave filters and other passive components and subsystems employed in commercial, industrial, and aerospace and applications. Products are available from an operating frequency range of 10 kHz to 30 GHz and include cavity, ceramic, crystal, LC, and surface acoustic wave (SAW), as well as power combiners/dividers, duplexers and diplexers, directional couplers, terminations, attenuators, circulators, EMI filters, and lightning arrestors. The company's custom products and capabilities are available at www.anatechelectronics.com.


Anatech Electronics, Inc.

70 Outwater Lane

Garfield, NJ 07026

(973) 772-4242




Posted December 29, 2017

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