WiFi6 Ratification: Not So Fast My Friend

There has been a lot of publicity lately about WiFi6 obviously and even more visibility when the WiFi6 certification was announced September 16. So now we officially have WiFi6 and we can move on. NOT SO FAST.

Over the past few weeks I seem to be having the same conversation in-person with people as well as in Slack rooms, etc. around this announcement. There is a perception that once this announcement was made it is a done deal and we have 802.11ax as a ratified ammendment now. This is most certainly NOT the case. The announcement that was made in September was around the WiFi Alliance certification occurring not ratification. Well, those are the same thing, I can hear some of you saying. They are not, and this is where the marketing and big money companies come into play.

The WiFi Alliance is a group of companies that pay for the privilege, from USD$5,150/year to be a contributor up to USD$20,000/year to be a contributor according to the WiFi Alliance membership page (https://www.wi-fi.org/membership). According to the Who We Are page:

WFA Who

 

Basically the WiFi Alliance is a group of companies, including Apple, Cisco, Intel, Qualcomm, etc. that pay to work together on collaboration within the industry, testing equipment in labs to verify devices function ‘properly’ and advocate for spectrum usage, etc. In other words, a WiFi marketing company on how devices connect and function. But, this makes it a standard right?

Just as in wired networking and many other industries, the IEEE is the standards body that develops, writes and ultimately ratifies standards for wireless networking in working groups. The 802.11 working group within the IEEE are the ones responsible for publishing the standard, not the WiFi Alliance. This is where the confusion comes in for most people.

The working group puts together the draft of the new technology, then creates publishes this draft. For 802.11ax this draft was not fully completed and approved by the working group until February 25, 2019 according the IEEE website (http://www.ieee802.org/11/Reports/802.11_Timelines.htm). And from the working group timeline we still will not have ratification until at least September of 2020 with final approvals not coming until November of 2020.

Standard

So as we hear in the media and online that WiFi6 is here and certification is complete, let’s not lose site of what that actually means. Is WiFi6 here, yes it is. Devices are beginning to be released at a quicker pace, especially now that certification is complete. Wireless vendors have been out pushing these new APs for a time now and there is beginning to be an install base for them, but nothing too pervasive at this time. Within the wireless community the sentiment is that there are not going to be any large changes, if any at all, before ratification takes place. However, we just need to be careful about going around spreading the word that the WiFi6 standard is published and ratified. There is still another year of work for that to be reality.

What is the Perfect Wireless Design?

Perfection is always something we hear a lot about but we know is almost impossible to achieve. The perfect game in baseball, an undefeated season, completing Super Mario Bros. with a single life. It is hard to get there, but a few have over the years. But what makes the perfect wireless design and how do you go about doing it?

Wireless designs and deployments are as varied as the engineers that do them. Those of us that have been doing this for 20 years or more are definitely set in our ways and have our little tricks and trade secrets on how we look to do configurations, etc. We all have our ways we stick with, RRM configs for Cisco, antenna combinations for stadiums, making pretty designs in Ekahau. All of this adds to our diversity as individuals. This has never been more apparent than sitting in a room with more than a dozen of the brightest at Ekahau Masters while having 30 minute debates over simple things. But that is what makes our industry and community so special. We can have people from 3 different manufacturers, people from competing service organizations and just strong personalities in general and still all come together, disagree vehemently with one another and then have a drink afterwards and laugh until we cry. If all of this is the case and this group of people cannot even agree how can we actually put a box around what a perfect design is?

I think our friend Sam Clements puts it best with the most well known quote in the industry, “It Depends”. A perfect design depends on so much. Yes the RF and physics are important, but what about the other issues we are trying to solve for? Did we capture the customers requirements and actually listen to what their problem is and what their version of success looks like? Did we make the least-capable device work properly?

If you keep up with the community I am sure you have heard Keith Parsons tell you at some point or another that if you meet the customer requirements then it is a success. You do not have to deploy the latest and greatest of everything all the time to make this true. Just because a customer comes to you and says they need to have an ax network, do they really? Our jobs are to help them understand what is out there, how wireless actually works and then listen to what their problems are and advise them on how to deploy a system to address those problems.

I know this sounds like blasphemy, but think how many times you have seen something on BadFi or in life in general and said you could have done that so much better. But do you know the requirements or constraints the customer put on the engineer? There have definitely been times I have installed something in a way I was not happy about, but I had limitations put on me by the customer around aesthetics, etc. and had to do the best I could. Same goes for designs and configurations, I may look at a config someone else does and say, What the hell were they thinking. But, I was not in the meeting with the customer to get the requirements for the network and to hear what problem they were looking to solve. When I meet with a customer for during a kickoff for a remediation or a new network I always ask the same questions, and I may repeat a couple because during the course of those meetings you may get different answers from the customer, or new things may come up that were not apparent to them or to you at the beginning. This is where we start to design the perfect wireless network.

There is a lot of discussion these days about what number CWNE someone is, or what version of the IE are you studying for. I am all for certifications, but don’t make the mistake of putting your knowledge and understanding ahead of the customer’s needs and what they are actually looking to do. In my opinion when you do that, no matter how ugly that baby may look to others, you have created the perfect wireless network. Because it was for that customer and that customer alone.