We’ve all become acquainted with the capabilities of home Wi-Fi; the ability to connect our phones, tablets, computers, smart TV’s, gaming consoles, digital assistants, and now, home appliances to the internet without a wired connection. It is something we take for granted, expect to be there, and just work. But to get to where we are today, the technology has evolved significantly. While Wi-Fi has its technological roots dating back to the 70’s it achieved prominence in the late 1990’s with the release of the first version of the 802.11 protocol by IEEE in 1997.
Since IEEE does not test equipment for compliance with their standards, the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance was formed in 1999 to establish and enforce standards for interoperability throughout the industry. ASSIA is significantly involved with the Wi-Fi Alliance.
W-Fi Standards and Versions
The first version of the IEEE 802.11 protocol provided up to 2 Mbit/s link speeds. In 1999 it was updated with the release of 802.11b to permit 11 Mbit/s link speeds. Today, there are multiple versions and releases that have been designated as “generations”
|Generation||Release Versions||Maximum Link Rate|
|Initial releases||802.11, 802.11b, 802.11g|
|Wi-Fi 4||802.11n, 802.11, 802.11, 802.11-2007, 802.11-2012||600–9608 Mbit/s|
|Wi-Fi 5||802.11ac, 802.11ad, 802.11, 802.11-2016, 802.11ah, 802.11ai, 802.11aj, 802.11aq||433–6933 Mbit/s|
|Wi-Fi 6||802.11ax, 802.11ay||600–9608 Mbit/s|
The IEEE 802.11 standard provides several distinct radio frequency ranges for use in Wi-Fi communications: 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 3.6 GHz, 4.9 GHz, 5 GHz, 5.9 GHz, and 60 GHz. Each range is divided into multiple channels, and the allowable channels can vary by country due to local regulations about the channels, number of users, and power levels allowed in each frequency range. For example, for the 2.4 GHz band, the US allows 11 channels, Australia and Europe 13, and Japan 14.
A standard speed Wi-Fi signal overlaps five channels in the 2.4 GHz band. Any two channel numbers that differ by five or more, such as 2 and 7, do not overlap. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the only group of three non-overlapping channels in North America.
802.11a/h/j/n/ac/ax can use the 5 GHz U-NII band, can have at least 23 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels compared to the 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band’s 5MHz wide channels. The 5GHz bands are typically recommended for faster speeds in close range, but due to them being more susceptible to being absorbed by common building materials 2.4 GHz is often used for distances. Much new spectrum is now becoming available at and above 6 GHz.
One device often supports multiple versions, but to communicate, devices must be able to fall-back to a common Wi-Fi version.
The 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) standard uses the 5 GHz band exclusively and is capable of multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1 gigabit per second, and a single station throughput of at least 500 Mbit/s. This standard uses several advanced signal processing techniques such as multi-user (MU) MIMO and 4X4 Spatial Multiplexing streams, and large channel bandwidth (160 MHz) to achieve the Gigabit throughput.
The 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard adds much functionality including upstream MU-MIMO and OFDM for scheduled channel access.
Home Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things
Wi-Fi consumer on-premises equipment (COE), referred to as gateways, access points, routers, and controllers, provide Wi-Fi to the home by a wired connection to the home’s DSL or cable line. Depending on the home’s size, layout, and construction, one device may serve one room or the entire home. Additional access points are often added throughout the home to serve a specific room or boost the signal. These can be wired or wireless access points. Mesh networks are gaining acceptance in homes as a way to provide more consistent Wi-Fi throughout the home, without dead spots, which can be created by large appliances or the way walls and floors are constructed.
In addition to home media and communications devices using the home Wi-Fi, homes are adopting devices known as The Internet of Things. These devices have Wi-Fi access, a limited graphical user interface and are low-power, battery-operated embedded systems. For example, home monitoring and security systems and home appliances such as air purifiers, and music streaming devices that require a mobile app to operate.
Performance Management is Necessary for Carrier-grade Home Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi connections can be disrupted, or the internet speed lowered by having multiple devices in the same area. While the protocols share channels well, some issues can still occur that prevent or disrupt access, or decrease the signal to noise ratios between access points:
- Some access-points default to the same channel on start-up and create congestion
- Band (2.4 or 5 GHz, DFS) assignments and channel assignments
- Multiple devices connecting to the same access point, particularly in multiple-dwelling units and urban areas with high traffic
- Interference and noise
- Coverage problems
- The ever-increasing Internet of Things
- Home construction and layout
- Placement of the access points
- Legacy devices
As a result, Service Providers are increasingly taking responsibility for the management and optimization of home Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi significantly impacts the customer’s quality of experience and their perception of the Service Provider’s internet service. Not having insight into what is going on between the Wi-Fi access point and device, can result in unnecessary service calls and misdiagnosing line problems.
Channel assignment, power control, band selection (2.4 or 5 GHz), steering station associations, enabling Request To Send/Clear To Send (RTS/CTS), use of 5 GHz Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) channels and other settings may be managed to limit the impact of interference. Assignment and use of 802.11e class of service as in the WFA WMM Specification and other traffic management techniques may also be applied. A significant number of performance and environment parameters can be collated for accurate diagnostics.
Read the white paper on The Case for Managed Home Wi-Fi.